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School pets provide comfort

They also serve as incentive for kids to improve behavior

When she's not snoozing in the sunshine or scattering paper clips, Sunflower makes the happiness of students at Lone Pine Elementary School her No. — job.

The fuzzy, rotund feline officially adopted the Medford school ' including the staff and kids ' more than six years ago as a stray kitten.

In exchange for her room and board, Sunflower has become Lone Pine's live-in mascot, goodwill ambassador and unofficial counselor. She's even part of the official school picture taken for every grade.

She's real fun to play with, said Lone Pine second-grader Emily Pahl, 8. I like her name. It kind of fits her. She's kind of brown and black like a sunflower.

Although lizards, rodents, birds and fish are common classroom pets, a handful of Jackson County schools keep cats or dogs on campus.

School officials say that office pets often serve as a therapeutic outlet for students who are upset or simply having a bad day.

She goes right up to the kids who are crying and upset and nuzzles their faces, said Lone Pine Principal Miles Richards. It's funny how she does that, how she knows just who to go to.

Sunflower lives inside the school office year around and is cared for by staff members.

The cat is so popular that school officials had to develop a feline rule ' no visiting the office just to see Sunflower.

According to office manager Lori Chakarun, Sunflower's popularity extends to the staff as well as students. Sunflower is always battling to keep her figure because so many teachers feed her treats.

Sunflower is the queen around here, said Chakarun. She rules the place. We all love her.

At Oak Grove Elementary, a tabby named O.G. has been watching out for students for more than 18 years after she was abandoned by a school caretaker. Since that time, O.G. has made the grounds of the Medford school on Jacksonville Highway her full-time home.

She's a little shy and protective, said Oak Grove Principal Arthur Peterson. She just hangs around down in the teachers' workroom. She's great.

In the past, Peterson said, O.G. was simply too shy to interact with students and would only hang around office staff. But as the tabby aged, she slowly warmed to the children.

Pets at school do more than perk up a student's day.

At Washington Elementary School, students who are well-behaved are allowed to take black Labrador retriever Brandy for a walk around the grounds.

The 9-year-old canine doesn't live at the school full-time. Instead, the short dog with the wagging tail comes to work with her owner, Principal Stephanie Johnson.

Kids come in every day asking, 'Is Brandy here? Is Brandy here?' said office manager Cindy White. She's a real sweet dog.

School officials who keep dogs or cats at school say because the animals are confined to specific areas, students and staff who suffer from pet allergies aren't affected.

Lone Pine Elementary School second-grader Emily Wood demonstrates that the way to make friends with the school cat, Sunflower, is a friendly tease with a straightened paper clip. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell