BARNEGAT, NJ – Children may be resilient but that is not to say they are not feeling pandemic related stress. Four-legged Winnie was in therapy mode last week as she brightened the day for some students at the Cecil C. Collins School.

Winnie came equipped with her own special school bag and brought along community minded school counselor Michele Cucinotta for treat support.

The shi tzu bichon mix flaunted a Minnie Mouse outfit to fit in with her with new kindergarten and first grade friends.  Collins’s schoolchildren ended their “Suess” tastic celebration Friday by dressing up as what they wanted to be when they grew up.

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“Winnie wants to be Minnie,” shared Cucinotta, as the students giggled. “It’s because she really likes Mickey.”

Four groups of children shared their “career” ambitions backed up by their wardrobe choices for the day. Barnegat High School’s graduating classes of 2032 and 2033 include at least four future police officers, a firefighter, a garbage collector, and more than a couple of astronauts.

A kindergartener garbed in a suit and tie said he wanted to grow up to be a paleontologist. The serious little man clarified that meant he planned to study old dinosaur bones.

Potential doctors, nurses, superheroes, and video gamers sat behind dividers in some of the classrooms. Some of the youngsters expressed interests in pursuing dance and the arts. And, of course, at least one Barnegat student sees life as a future “YouTuber.”

Winnie took their outfits all in stride as she wandered towards each of the children and greeted each with a doggie smile. She even peeked into an occasional backpack as she sniffed something apparently more inviting than her puppy treats.

Children wanting to be children attempted to gather close to see Winnie perform some heartwarming tricks. Teacher after teacher gently reminded them to keep a distance and focused the camera for virtual students to get a view of Winnie at work.

Young minds have heard about the threat of the “virus” and keep their masks on without question. A sense of normalcy comes by way of distraction by the cute little pup trained in pet therapy.

Winnie is not the first therapy dog to pay special attention to Barnegat students. Owner, Joanne Feodorczyk says Tink, her 14-year-old shih tzu made annual visits with her to the Dunfee School.  Both dogs have appeared in the school’s yearbook.

Joanne trained both Tink and Winnie herself. When she first got Tink, she noticed there was something exceptional and brought her along to visit residents in Tallwoods, a nursing home.

“I ended up with breast cancer and the doctor recommended I no longer visit the nursing home because I was undergoing chemotherapy,” Joanne shared.

Tink however, may have been the first to pick up on Joanne’s diagnosis as the dog began to cry uncontrollably whenever she got close to her owner.  Joanne assumed something was wrong and made repeated trips to the veterinarian. After a slew of tests, it turned out it was not Tink who had an issue.

When Joanne learned she had breast cancer, she had surgery and returned home. Tink climbed up on her lap very gently and greeted her owner with a few sniffs. The crying stopped.

During chemotherapy, Joanne started to experience seizure-like symptoms. She could hear people but could not respond. Joanne decided to hide the short-term episodes until her daughter picked up on something.

Tink was apparently warning Joanne just before she would go through the experience. The special dog later picked up on a child about to have a seizure in Disney.

Tink’s age has her somewhat in semi-retirement as she serves a special therapy role to just Joanne. Meanwhile, Winnie seems pawfully delighted in making friends and bringing smiles throughout Barnegat Schools.

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