FAIRMONT - Jaxson keeps a calm demeanor as a swarm of small children attack him with adoration, including ruffing his fur, bear hugs and hands in his face, with an occasional eye poke or grab of his tongue.
The year-and-a-half-old Golden Retriever manages through it all without jerking away or barking. As a trained therapy dog, he is used to being "loved" by children and keeping calm in chaotic situations.
"I wanted a good hunting dog, but also a good family dog," said Jaxson's handler, Luke Cyphers of Fairmont. "He comes from a long bloodline of dogs that are hunting and therapy dogs. His father was a seeing-eye dog, and his mother was also a service dog. ... It costs a lot more to have a special breed, but when you see those certificates with the really long name, and all those abbreviations behind it, they all mean something."
Luke Cyphers and his Golden Retriever therapy dog, Jaxson, read and listen to stories with students in Early Childhood Special Education classes Wednesday at Fairmont Elementary School.
Cyphers began getting Jaxson into both therapy and hunting training when he was only 3 or 4 months old.
"Having chaos around, bells going off, slick floors, lots of kids, you need to get them used to that as soon as possible," Cyphers said. "At home, I let him be wild. But he knows as soon as we arrive here that different rules are in place."
Jaxson is now titled as a therapy and hunting dog. While it may be out of the ordinary for a dog to be certified for both tasks, the Golden Retriever breed is known for its versatility and ability to be trained in both waterfowl hunting and as a therapy dog.
And with Jaxson's certifications, Cyphers plans to continue his valuable tradition.
"We will be looking to breed him in the future," he said.
Cyphers, also a volunteer firefighter for Fairmont Fire Department, brings Jaxson to Fairmont Elementary School on a weekly basis.
"I go to the preschool and special ed rooms, and there is another teacher where we do the one-on-one reading," he said.
Unlike seeing-eye dogs or service dogs, therapy dogs are meant to be petted and loved, and provide comfort. They are known for visiting hospital or nursing home patients, and bringing comfort to a person in a crisis. The presence of a therapy dog also can help children with special needs, such as autism.
In Jaxson's case, it means being brought into the school while children either read to the dog, or while they listen to someone reading.
"We've been coming to the school enough that the kids I first read to are now in kindergarten and first grade, and they recognize me. Well, they recognize Jaxson. They say hi to Jaxson and they call me Jaxson's dad," he said with a laugh.