MITCHELL COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) — Ruby, a 6-month-old poodle mix, is the center of attention at Harris Middle School, as she walks the halls with Principal Michael Tountasakis.
Ruby became the official school dog after Tountasakis got the green light to incorporate the Mutt-i-grees program into his school.
The principal heard about Mutt-i-grees on a network news program.
"There was a school in Brooklyn, New York, that had a comfort dog. I made a phone call, and the rest is history," Tountasakis said.
The Mutt-i-grees program is a curriculum developed through Yale University and the Northshore Animal League. It'sdesigned to develop calm, confident and caring kids.
Tountasakis said Harris Middle is the first school in North Carolina to be a part of the program.
Ruby debuted at Harris on the first day of school.
Tountasakis, who said many of his students have troubled backgrounds, saw immediate results.
"We had a student come in, totally ramped up with anxiety, crying and just not ready to go back to class," Tountasakis remembered. "Just a few minutes with Ruby, that child completely changed."
Seventh-grader Ian Burleson, who is autistic, became a Mutt-i-grees National Ambassador, winning $500 for the school.
He said Ruby is helping him stay calm and improve his schoolwork.
"When I'm stressed, I won't do as much work and I'll put less effort into it," Burleson said.
Fellow student Kendra Ledford said Ruby is also helping her navigate her middle school years.
"I see myself change around her because it's easy to talk to an animal and be nice," Ledford said.
Ruby was adopted from the Mitchell County Animal Rescue.
"She's very cute," said Patricia Beam, who works at the animal rescue. "Of course, being in a foster home with other dogs, 24/7, she was well socialized."
When she's not at school, Ruby lives with administrative assistant Sandy Vaughn. Tountasakis encourages any schools interested in the Mutt-i-grees program to contact him.