Butler Middle School students raise money for Therapy Animals of Utah
Surprise gift • Staff members didn't know the school was making the donation.
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Students at Butler Middle School embarked on a fundraiser to support an organization that seeks healing through animal companionship.

In just a week and a half, students raised $1,752 for Therapy Animals of Utah (TAU), a nonprofit that sends out volunteers with animals to spend time and bond with patients, rest-home residents and anyone whose days might be improved by the presence of animals.

"I was really impressed and proud of the students and the fact that they raised so much money," said Megan Leach, social-studies teacher and head of the student-body officers.

The SBOs were in charge of doing a service project the first quarter of school, but the idea came from a school counselor who has connection to TAU.

"There was a competition between the classes, but there was no extrinsic reward," Leach said. "Some of the classes donated $400 just within [each] class."

The top five classes that collected the most money did get a visit from TAU so the students could spend 15 minutes up close with the animals the organization brought along.

At the assembly that kicked off the fundraiser in late October, TAU also made an appearance with some of their animals, including a pit bull named Stevie the Wonder Dog and a St. Bernard called Dazzle.

"We were able to meet the animals and see how cute they were," said Jordan Gygi, ninth-grade SBO.

He said the organization helps people who might be struggling and feel limited, whether by sicknesses or where they are staying.

"It puts a smile on their face, helps cheer them up when they're going through a hard time," Gygi said.

Leach said seeing the animals helped rally students behind the cause and emphasized how much of a factor animals could play in daily lives.

"We're a pet-friendly community," she said. "We had the dogs come for the assembly, which made that personal connection watching them interact with the kids."

The initial goal was to raise $1,500, but Leach said she was pleased to surpass that. Furthermore, a law firm called Nuttall, Brown and Coutts of Midvale matched the funds up to $1,500. So in the end, both parties were able to present a total of $3,252 to TAU.

Leach said a staffer at the school knew someone at the law firm and mentioned the school's fundraiser. Nuttal, Brown and Coutts was onboard.

"They said as long as they could do it quietly without publicity," Leach said. "That was really cool, too."

Bryce Bollinger, another SBO, said he was impressed with how well-trained the TAU animals were when they came to the assembly.

"I think it's going to a great cause," he said. "I'm really happy about the result."

One student donated $100, which caused quite a stir at the school. Leach said the teacher questioned the student if he was sure about it, and the school even contacted the parents to make sure everything was OK.

"They talked to the parents, and they said this was his own money," Leach said. "It was cool to see he was so passionate about this particular organization."

An unlikely place that TAU caters to is the library, where the animals provide companionship and support for kids as they read.

"A lot of times kids get nervous or scared," Leach said. "They read to the dogs, which is very comforting because dogs are not judgmental and always positive."

Gaelyn Derr, executive director of TAU, said it's usually the older, more mellow dogs that get sent to libraries.

"The more active animals can go to psychiatric centers where teenagers are in rehabilitation," she said. "It's just important for people to be able to have that feeling of unconditional love and acceptance."

She said the organization was shocked to receive the donation from Butler Middle.

"It came out of nowhere because we didn't know this was happening," she said concerning the fundraiser. "It was a rough year for us financially, so everyone was excited."

TAU, which became a nonprofit in 1997, is affiliated with Seattle-based Pet Partners, formerly known as Delta Society. There are about 40 to 50 volunteers at TAU.

Aside from dogs, the organization also has four cats, two of which frequent the Primary's Children Medical Center, a parrot and a miniature horse. They used to have guinea pigs and are hoping to get a rabbit.

"They go anywhere where a human can benefit by the presence of animals," Derr said.

With the training classes and administrative affairs, Derr said TAU appreciates the donation.

"We recruit and train, mentor and support volunteer teams," Derr said. "Basically the money is to help keep our program going."

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At a glance

Butler Middle School students donated $1,752, and law firm Nuttall, Brown and Coutts donated $1,500, for a total of $3,252.

Therapy Animals of Utah (TAU) is a nonprofit dedicated to improve lives through animal and human bonding.

TAU sends volunteer teams out to hospitals, rest homes, psychiatric centers, etc.