Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, June 23, 2018

watching willoow jan16Youngsters Jose Ruiz and Josie Thomasen get up close and personal recently with Willoow and Regina Caron, who visit Assumption Early Learning Center in Manchester weekly. (Photo by Lenora Sumsky)

MANCHESTER – Children at Assumption Early Learning Center have been watching Willoow grow. The adorable Old English Sheepdog, with her distinctive shaggy coat, was only 8 weeks old when she began visiting students at the early learning center.

Regina Caron, who owns the gentle and easy-going puppy, brings her to the school almost every week to visit the youngsters. The school offers preschool, prekindergarten and kindergarten programs.

“The children are amazed to see how much Willoow has grown,” said Karen Lavoie, one of the center’s teachers.

By the time Willoow is 18 months old, she’ll have grown to be about 42 inches tall and approximately 80 pounds, said Mrs. Caron, a retired pediatric nurse who now is an active volunteer at the school.

During each visit a chart, made just for Willoow, is used to mark her growth in height and weight. Students, who range in age from 3 to 5, count out Willoow’s age in weeks. They also see how Willoow’s behavior and listening skills improve with each visit. As Willoow continues to grow, they also will watch to see how the color of her fur changes.

While children are learning about Old English Sheepdogs, they say they also are having a lot of fun petting Willoow and watching her grow.

“The children are always excited when Willoow visits,” said Mrs. Caron. “It’s something different and the continuity of seeing her every week adds to their enjoyment.”

“I love kids and I love dogs,” said Mrs. Caron, who received a St. John Neumann Award for volunteer service in 2015 from the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Catholic Schools. She has been a volunteer since her nephews were kindergarten students at the former Assumption School.

Since her first visit to the early learning center, students have been calling Mrs. Caron “Aunt Reggie.” The tradition began more than a decade ago when she was introduced to her nephew’s class as Mrs. Caron. Her 5-year-old nephew immediately interjected, “That’s not her name, she’s Aunt Reggie.”

While everyone at the early learning center agrees that Aunt Reggie is the perfect name for their perennial volunteer, not everyone agrees with the spelling of Willoow’s name.

Aunt Reggie initially named the puppy, her fourth Old English sheepdog, Willoo. Several friends insisted that an extra “w” was needed. Aunt Reggie relented and added a “w” to spell the puppy’s name as Willoow.

Literacy-minded teachers at Assumption Early Learning Center, who introduce young students to phonemic awareness through games and activities, have a different idea. They favor the more traditional spelling, which would eliminate an “o” leaving Willow.

To Willoow, it doesn’t seem to matter.