Lifestyle

Newburg, much-loved library dog at Chautauqua, dies

Elijah Nichelson, Sue Bell and Talia Roybal spend time at the table dedicated to Newbug. Jacob White is in the background.  - Susan Riemer/staff photo
Elijah Nichelson, Sue Bell and Talia Roybal spend time at the table dedicated to Newbug. Jacob White is in the background.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/staff photo

Chautauqua Elementary School students were greeted with sad news last week: Newburg, the beloved library dog, had died unexpectedly the weekend before.

Newburg belonged to Joan Baseleon, a paraeducator, who has worked in the library with Newburg for the past two years.

The library was a fitting place for Newburg, as he was well-acquainted with books from his earlier work at the school.

Three years ago the gentle golden retriever started his Chautauqua career as a reading dog, and he and Baseleon were instrumental in creating the reading dog program, where each week students who teachers feel need a little extra help go to a quiet room with a dog and its handler, stretch out on the floor and read.

Last week, two library tables were adorned with flowers, photos of Newburg and some of his favorite toys. Kids expressed their feelings in poems they placed on the table and wrote comments in a memorial book.

Third-grader Sue Bell snuggled with a stuffed golden retriever at the table and recalled how she had read to Newburg in first grade, when he would look at the pictures and sniff the pages. Like Bell, Talia Roybal, 9, will miss Newburg, too.

“He was really loving, and he was a good listener,” she said.

Third-grade teacher Esther Morrison voiced her appreciation for Baseleon helping the kids get through this rough time, as well as for all the work that came before.

“Newburg and Ms. Baseleon were an amazing team at drawing kids into the library. And the way Ms. Baseleon creates a welcoming library is commendable, remarkable, wonderful.”

The outpouring from the kids last week was not just about Newburg, vice principal Nancy Herrington said, but also Baseleon. “It’s an expression of love for her.”

Baseleon, clearly moved by the kids’ affections, recounted how one boy who typically has difficulty connecting with others socially, spent all his free time in the library last week. A visitor asked him if he missed Newburg.

“I miss Newburg,” he said. “But I am worried about Ms. Baseleon. I know she is sad, and I want to make sure she is OK.”

Herrington said it had been a hard week at Chautauqua and commended Baseleon for being remarkably positive. With each class, Baseleon recounted Newburg’s good last day: a trip to the veterans’ hospital, where patients saved him food off their plates; some long walks and a trip to visit 11-week-old kittens, who climbed all over him. And Baseleon has encouraged kids to ask all the questions they want.

He died early Sunday morning after he became ill Saturday night. The vets diagnosed a heart-based tumor, which grows rapidly and is always fatal.

Many Islanders knew Newburg. As a puppy, he belonged to Char Phillips, who intended to train him to be a guide dog.

He had some medical issues and did not pass the physical exam, so he returned to Phillips and helped her teach guide dog families how to train their puppies.

Two and a half years ago, Baseleon adopted him and trained him further to be a therapy dog. He sometimes went to Vashon Community Care with Baseleon to visit a man there and go for walks outside, and he recently had begun going to the veterans’ administration hospital with Baseleon.

But the heart of his work was at Chautauqua. He loved children, Baseleon said: “School break was the worst time for him.”

But Baseleon is moving forward, and people have their eyes out for a new dog for her — a dog that in due time will go to school with her, because, Baseleon said, “A library is not a library without a dog.”

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