One of the most well-known faces at Columbine Hills Elementary School retired Nov. 11 after a decade of tenure, which in the case of Ramblin’ the Retriever was about 70 canine years.
Arguably the most popular personality at the school, four-legged or otherwise, Ramblin’, who started at Columbine Hills as a student’s service dog and ended as a set of patient ears for any student learning to read, was given a tail-wagging sendoff. Hundreds of students from all grades lined up in the school’s cafeteria to give the lovable Labrador farewell waves and hand-drawn thank-you cards.
“She’s so calm. She’s so wonderful to watch with the children,” said principal’s secretary Cherrelyn Schulte, who for years has been greeting the personable pooch near the school’s entrance. Ramblin’ has been a source of comfort for many students, she added, pointing to a handful of instances in which children felt better after airing their problems to the dog.
At only a year old, Rambin’ first showed up at the school with student Quinn Silco, who depended on the dog to steady himself due to cerebral palsy. For five years, students and teachers became accustomed to Ramblin’, the only quadriped to roam the halls.
“This is her 11th year. She started out when my son was in the first grade, and now he’s a junior,” said Dori Hammer, Quinn’s mother. “He had trouble balancing when he walked, and she’s a stability dog. She was taught to brace against him.”
But by the time Quinn, who now attends Columbine High, moved on to middle school, he was becoming more physically independent, and he decided not to take Ramblin’ with him to classes.
So rather than deprive a friendly dog of attention, Hammer continued to bring Ramblin’ to Columbine Hills every day. Teachers jumped at the opportunity to incorporate an animal into the learning experience, using Ramblin’ as a private audience for students practicing reading skills. And for some she was a therapeutic listener who didn’t judge — students poured out their problems to her, feeling better afterward.
On one such occasion, a special-needs student spent five or 10 minutes talking to her, and staff members noticed a dramatic change in his demeanor.
“He was upset and crying. He was agitated. I didn’t know what it was about,” Schulte said. “This little boy got down on his hands and knees,” she added about him speaking to the dog. “He completely let go of what was troubling him. It was gone.”
But at more than 11 years old, the gentle canine can no longer keep pace with a school of rambunctious kids. Two weeks ago, Hammer and her husband, Tom Silco, took Ramblin’ to see a veterinarian for walking problems. An X-ray revealed a mass growing on the dog’s heart.
The veterinarian could not ascertain whether the growth was malignant or benign, and her prognosis remains uncertain. Regardless, Ramblin’s future is certain to involve less activity than when she was a pup.
“It affects her circulation, and blood doesn’t get to her extremities,” Hammer said, noting she knew Ramblin’ would eventually have to retire from attending the elementary school every day. “In dog years, she’s probably 80.”
As she lay on a thick dog bed, her tail constantly wagging as children flocked around her to say goodbye in the cafeteria, it was clear that she is going to miss listening to the students, too.
“She never divulges a secret,” Schulte said. “She’s just such a good influence on the kids.”