For teachers and students at Neil Armstrong Elementary School, bad days happen every now and then.

But, those days usually turn around when they see Akin, a 4-year-old black Labrador Retriever.

After having Akin, who serves as a therapy dog, around since 2014, Danielle Breier, the school counselor, has seen plenty of positive change at Neil Armstrong. 

"He's very soothing," she said. "Just like adults, kids have tough days and he can be that calming force. You probably won't be crying when you're petting a dog." 

She notices it when Akin sits in on Breier's counseling sessions and classes or when they take a stroll around the building. 

"Everyone knows him and that builds a sense of community," she said. "When I walk around without him, kids are like 'Where's Akin? He's a celebrity." 

Therapy dogs can be found at all of the six elementary schools in the Bettendorf Community School District, which started the program about 10 years ago. One is expected to join Bettendorf Middle School soon, too, according to Jodi Hanson, a fourth-grade teacher at Neil Armstrong and the district’s therapy dog coordinator. 

The dogs were acquired from Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education & Services, or CARES, in Concordia, Kansas, where Hanson traveled for a week-long training session three years ago before bringing Akin to his new home. 

By now Hanson, Akin's primary handler and owner, is used to Akin following her around and being with her in the classroom as well as during car rides to and from work each day.

"I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have him next to me and I don't know what he would do all day," Hanson said. "It's what he knows." 

It's what her class of 25 students knows, too, Hanson said.

"It helps them build a strong connection with school," she said. "If they don't already have a strong connection here, they look forward to seeing him."

Students have learned to take turns petting Akin, refilling his water bowl and feeding the pup his favorite food — carrots. 

Akin has learned to chill next to students while they study and solve math problems on tablets. He also helps out in "crisis intervention" scenarios, Hanson said. 

"He goes to certain kids at certain times," she said. "He can tell who needs him more. He can make anyone smile." 


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).