Ernest is one of the most well-behaved students at Blessed Sacrament School in Albany. He sits quietly, always waits patiently and carries an aura of warmth that makes everyone around him feel relaxed and more at home. 

Then again, Ernest is a golden retriever. 

For the past school year, the 10-year-old therapy dog has visited Eileen Dooley’s first-grade classroom once a week. Ernest, who is joined each visit by his owners, Peggy and Mike Frezon, sits with students individually while they practice reading stories aloud. 

On his last visit, students read thank-you letters to Ernest and wished him a happy summer. The class also surprised Ernest with a good-bye present: stuffed doggie toys, a tennis ball, treats and a signed photo of the first-grade class. 

The Frezons have been rescuing golden retrievers for years, helping them to find new purpose. Ernest is a popular visitor at local nursing homes, hospitals and colleges, such as The University at Albany, RPI and Siena College. The Blessed Sacrament class was Ernest’s first time working with first-graders; the experience was amazing for everybody, said Dooley.

“The kids aren’t afraid to read aloud (to Ernest) because they’re not going to feel judged,” said Dooley. “He’s not going to tell them a word is wrong or pronounced differently.” (Photos by Emily Benson)