Even dogs can graduate from high school.
"Robert," a spunky little canine, has been attending classes at Riverhead High School since September of 2011 -- and will graduate early on Friday.
The four-legged student has plans to go on to pursue higher education, with a career goal of being a Canine Compainions assistance dog -- after graduating from the Canine Companion for Independence training school.
Science teacher and Riverhead resident Sonja Haasper was Robert's puppy raiser, starting when he was only eight weeks school, and brought him to school for the first time at four months old; Robert is now 18 months old.
Friday is National Graduation Day for all CCI dogs. "It’s the culmination of hard work and selfless dedication, a shared celebration of the extraordinary chain of generosity that turns a lovable puppy into a Canine Companions assistance dog," the organization's website said.
The graduation ceremony, which both Haasper and Robert will attend, will be held at the Islandia Marriott; 14 other CCI dogs will be graduating and paired up for professional training -- the first step in a partnership between the dogs and people in need of assistance and companionship.
Next for Robert is an extensive testing program, after which he will aim to enter the next phase of training.
Haasper said she will have a hard time saying good-bye to Robert. "Every time I think about the fact that after tomorrow I have to hand Robert off to the CCI kennel staff in Medford, I start to lose my composure. Being a puppy raiser is a great experience, but it’s hard to say good-bye. He’s a great dog."
Robert's time at Riverhead High School went seamlessly, she added. "He has a great temperament. The only time he had a problem was when there was a fire drill. He didn’t like the sound of the alarm, but just like the students, he quietly exited the building.”
Accolades from other member of the Riverhead High School staff came pouring in. "It’s been great having Robert here," High School Principal Dave Wicks said. "We started out thinking that we were helping him with his training, but we received so much more than we gave. The students and staff loved having him here.”
Robert even earned a space for his photo, next to Haasper's, in last year's yearbook, said Assistant Principal Michael Hugelmeyer. "Robert was asked to sign more student yearbooks than any other faculty member."
A second CCI dog is now at the Phillips Avenue School, said Assistant Principal Charles Regan. "He was a paw blazer," he said.
A new puppy, Knapp, will soon be filling Robert's shoes at Riverhead High School, after time spent with Haasper, who also has a side business in dog obedience training.
“Knapp will start attending classes with me when he’s about four months old, which will be around Christmastime,” she explained. “By that time, he’ll be on a solid schedule for bathroom breaks, which take place after my third period class. It’s all worth it,” Haasper said. “CCI dogs provide an amazing service to people in wheelchairs, veterans who have lost limbs, the hearing impaired, and any number of other people who desperately need their assistance.”