Happy Birthday, Haywood 
Briar students give Haywood a proper send-off as he – and his handler – head to Perkins High
Haywood and Ryan Cassidy

Over the past two years, Briar Middle School eighth-grader Ryan Cassidy has come a long way – and his best bud, Haywood, has been right there with him. Next school year, Ryan will be off to Perkins High School and, of course, Haywood, his comfort dog, will be there with him.

But before Haywood and Ryan depart for PHS, the students, teachers, and staff on Monday afternoon threw Haywood a party for his third birthday.

Students gathered in the gymnasium to celebrate – and throw lots of tennis balls for the standard poodle. Over the past couple of weeks, students bought the numbered tennis balls. During the party, with Haywood anxiously looking on, they threw them on to the gym floor and then Haywood hunted down one of the balls. Who ever bought that ball, won a prize.

Between the tennis ball sales, as well as sales of special T-shirts for Haywood’s birthday, more than $900 was raised.

That money will be donated to the family of Donielle Shumate, a PHS senior who has been fighting leukemia.

Haywood goes hunting for tennis balls

‘Easing’ into high school

Like any student transitioning from middle school to high school, this will be an exciting, but anxious, time for Ryan. The difference for Ryan, though, is he has autism, which increases his anxiety levels in social settings, explains his mother, Melissa Cassidy.

Ryan says he’s nervous about the change, but says he is looking forward to being a freshman. When the school year starts, he will spend part of his day at Briar and the rest at PHS.

“We’re kind of easing him into (high school),” said Mrs. Cassidy. “Any kind of change is not easy for Ryan, but we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Ryan was paired with Haywood, a trained autism service dog, between Ryan’s sixth and seventh grade years. The changes in Ryan’s behavior were evident immediately. As a sixth-grader with autism, Ryan struggled with anxiety in social settings that often forced him to miss school. With Haywood at his side, Ryan misses less school and is more social with teachers and fellow students.

“It’s been cool to see how Ryan has grown over the past three years,” said Briar math teacher Alan Speer.

Ryan began going to school happier, and Haywood helped open up Ryan and enabled him to meet other students and make friends easier, Mrs. Cassidy said.

“And the staff has been amazing,” Mrs. Cassidy said. She notes that teachers were supportive of having Haywood.  

“Our biggest worry was how other students would react to Haywood,” Mr. Speer said. The kids learned early on, when Haywood is wearing his service dog vest, not to touch him or distract him. Haywood’s focus is Ryan, and it’s clear he can sense if the boy is anxious, Mr. Speer said.

Haywood bupcakes

Proper send-off

Meanwhile, though, the kids and staff have fallen in love with Haywood. Together, as a school family, they have fostered a positive relationship among all kids, teachers and staff.

“We’re looking forward to the next four years and see how (Ryan and Haywood) grow,” Mr. Speer said.

On Monday afternoon, Haywood was left out of his vest and allowed to frolic with the students and staff. And frolic, he did – running from tennis ball to tennis ball, sniffing around the gymnasium, and enjoying attaboys from everyone.

The sixth, seventh, and eighth graders enjoyed birthday cupcakes and gave Haywood a proper send-off.

Happy birthday Haywood. We look forward to seeing you – and Ryan – at PHS next fall.

Posted by j_stacklin On 03 June, 2019 at 3:14 PM