Sue Ellen Haver believes fate joined her and a 2-year-old Staffordshire terrier named Russell together when both needed rescuing. Now, they work as a team offering a childrenâ??s educational program they hope to expand to Culpeper.
In June 2012, Sue Ellen, who goes by her last name â??Haver,â? and her husband found themselves without a place to live after they discovered that their 150-year-old farm house in Goshen, Virginia had a major mold problem. They were forced to move out. All their possessions were contaminated with mold.
â??I was living in a car,â? said Haver, who is a speech pathologist in the Rockbridge County school system.
Her husband of 30 years stayed in the garage for a week.
Haver knew something was wrong. She had been sick for several years, with respiratory problems.
â??I failed the mold test,â? Haver said about how it was determined the house had mold issues.
Professionals drilled holes in the walls to determine the extent of the mold problem.
â??Mushrooms were growing in the walls,â? said Haver.
A friend came to the rescue with the offer of a camper for the couple to live in for a while as professionals began the year-long $250,000 process of removing the mold. The loan covered fixing up the house but not the household goods, clothes and furniture that had to be discarded.
The couple later found a temporary home to live in.
The couple was financially strapped, with paying the mortgage on the farm and repaying the loan to remediate the house.
While Haver was struggling to restore her health, she and her husband were forced to live elsewhere. In November 2012, Haver received a call from a friend in Charlottesville.
Friendly phone connection
The friend said a lady who owned two Staffordshire terriers had lost her home and couldnâ??t take the dogs to her new home. The friend took one of the dogs, Russell, as a foster owner until she could find a good home.
The good home, according to the friend, belonged to Haver, who was living in a camper or rented home.
Haver believes that if she had not adopted Russell he would have been euthanized.
â??I think he came into my life for a purpose,â? said Haver. â??We helped each other.â?
However, Russell was destined to help more than Haver. With help from her business partner Eileen Jurand, the â??Muscles With Russellâ? children education program using Russell as the focus was born.
Jurand, a friend of Haverâ??s and who taught in the same school with Haver for a few years, teaches business education at Kettle Run High School and now lives in Culpeper, with her husband of 41 years.
Both Russell and Haver have been through tough times.
â??If you have a dog, they can help you through it,â? said Jurand.
The two women talked about Russell who has has attained the AKC Good Citizenâ??s Certification and Therapy Dog International Certification.
Jurand had the business plan, which includes applying with the IRS for 501 (c)(3) tax exempt status.
Haver had the idea about how to have Russell help kids. The plan includes motivational, wellness and education geared toward children. The focus is in on having kids make good choices and promote a healthy lifestyle.
â??We are finding there is so little out there,â??â? said Haver about programs using dogs as educational role models. â??We want to keep being educators.â?
Although stocky, muscled and somewhat intimidating looking â?? he walks four miles a day â?? Russell is a docile and friendly dog, greeting strangers with a wagging tail and bright eyes. He quickly puts a stranger at ease, even falling asleep on a reporterâ??s foot during the interview.
Recently, Russell went to Noahâ??s Ark preschool in Fishersville.
â??The kids were so engaged,â? said Haver. â??The kids wanted to keep working with Russell.â?
Russell will choose a carrot over candy, water over a soda during a demonstration as a way to show kids good choices in food. The dog even shows children how to properly enter a classroom.
At a library in Churchville, a deaf girl ran from the room and hid after Russell arrived. The childâ??s mother told Haver the child was shy and wouldnâ??t come back because she couldnâ??t speak.
Haver kept talking to Russell and the other children.
A short time later, the little deaf girl peeked around the door jamb to see what was going on. She came into the room and signed the word for dog.
â??It was her interaction with Russell,â? said Haver. â??She became very calm and walked to the front of the room.â?
The child then came over to Russell and began petting him.
â??He takes their mind off whatever is bothering them,â? said Haver. â??He promotes relaxation.â?
Children interact well with animals because they are on eye level with them or looking down instead up as they do with an adult. Children also have short attention spans, said Haver.
â??They donâ??t take their eyes off the dog,â? said Haver. â??It promotes communication.â?
An autistic child, with ADHD, praised Russell for what he did.
The pair have created a coloring book with Russell as the focus, a childâ??s book, â??Russell Finds a Home,â? with more books in the works.
â??I want him to make over kids,â? said Haver. â??We want kids to go home and say they want to be like Russell.â?
Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org</em>
Muscles With Russell
What: Motivational, wellness and educational program for kids utilizing Staffordshire terrier Russell
Who: Sue Ellen Haver, Eileen Jurand and Russell
Where: Libraries, schools, events, Head Start programs, community organizations and parks and recreation programs, nursing homes, hospitals..
When: By appointment
Phone: 540-97-5376 or 540-460-5335