Sunny captured the hearts of viewers across the nation as TODAY’s Puppy with a Purpose, which showcased his 16 months of training with a trainer from the Guide Dog Foundation. Now, he is embarking on an exciting new adventure with us as the first and only Facility Dog at the Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center, where he enhances the learning experience for children with severe physical disabilities.
The Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center, based in Albertson, New York, provides a traditional educational setting for students with severe disabilities (pre-K up to age 21) who often require life-sustaining medical treatment throughout the day. Trained to assist young people as they go about their daily academic activities, Sunny plays an important role in helping students build social and emotional skills and engage with the curriculum in a variety of new ways.
Sunny’s Daily Tasks & Activities
Sunny greets students at the start and end of their school days. Depending on each individual student’s capabilities, greetings range from fist bumping, hand shaking, petting, or asking him to rest his head in their lap.
Students say or use assistive technology to give obedience cues and Sunny completes a task. Students can also ask Sunny to pick up out-of-reach classroom objects, like pencils or rulers, that may have fallen on the ground.
Social and Emotional Skill Development
Sunny assists with social and emotional learning, the process through which individuals understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
Grooming as a Reward
Students will learn responsibility and share the care of Sunny by taking turns brushing his fur and checking his paws and ears.
Walking as a Reward
With his handler by their side, Sunny walks with students as they hold the handle on his special vest.
When a student is apprehensive about reading aloud in class, Sunny minimizes anxiety by resting his head in the reader’s lap or sitting close by to provide emotional support.
Opening/Closing Doors, Drawers, and Cabinets
As most students at the Henry Viscardi School use power wheelchairs, Sunny presses power door buttons so they can navigate the building. He also assists in the classroom by opening and closing drawers, cabinets, and traditional doors.
Get to Know Sunny
Breed: Yellow Labrador Retriever.
Birthday: January 2, 2018.
Siblings: Seven brothers and sisters.
Favorite toy: A stuffed crocodile he’s had since he was a puppy.
Off-duty interests: Catching frisbees, playing hide and seek, and splashing in his pool.
Claim to fame: Before Sunny joined the team at Viscardi, he spent 240 mornings training at the TODAY studio. He traveled over 25,000 miles during his time with NBC, visiting “The Voice” set and acting as the “Stanley Pup” correspondent for the NHL playoffs.
Be sure to follow updates about Sunny’s adventures on The Viscardi Center’s Instagram page and visit us here on our website for news about his progress!