Children squeal in delight and greet Bam Bam, a 205-pound, 17-month-old English mastiff, as he enters their classroom in Moretown Elementary School, led by owner/handler Brian Carten, Warren. As part of a therapy program in Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) schools, sponsored by Hannah’s House mental health resource center, Bam Bam visits Moretown every other week, along with other schools in the district. The gentle giant elicits many smiles, cuddles, and pats.


Bam Bam became a certified therapy dog in December 2022 and has been working his way through local schools. In Moretown last week, on April 20, he plopped onto the carpet, even laying his large head in one student’s lap. Excited children interacted with Bam Bam, who seemed unperturbed by their energy.

Hannah’s House funds Carten and Bam Bam’s visits to HUUSD schools for eight hours per week. The pair rotates between schools in the district. Hannah’s House executive director Chrissy Rivers said there was a need for emotional regulation for students and staff in district schools and Bam Bam’s visits help meet that need. “Therapy pets have a tie to reduced cortisol and adrenaline,” she said. “It’s been measured that it is effective.”

“I started with Therapy Dogs of Vermont in 2014 with [dog] Judson, and we were involved at Harwood the morning after the accident [that took the lives of five high school students] happened in 2016,” Carten said. “I was on my way to a weekly visit at Woodridge Nursing Home and swung by Harwood to drop off one of our brochures to see if they wanted assistance. When I went in to do that, they asked if I had Judson with me and when I said yes, they asked me to bring him in immediately. That was the beginning of our relationship with Harwood.”

Carten currently has six mastiffs at home, some of which are retired from their service as therapy dogs. 

“You cannot train a dog to be a therapy dog, it is something that they are either born with or not. They have to want to interact with people and they have to have a certain disposition to be able to handle that much stress. We are currently visiting four schools regularly in the HUUSD. It's pretty difficult to go out in public with a mastiff without drawing a crowd so I figured I may as well make the most of it,” he said.

In addition to Moretown, Bam Bam and Carten visit Crossett Brook Middle School, Brookside Primary School and Harwood Union.

Hannah’s House provides a number of programs to HUUSD schools, as well as throughout the community, to support mental health. To support school staff, Hannah’s House is also sponsoring chair massages for all HUUSD school staff following April break, in partnership with the Mad River Valley Community Fund and the Mad River Valley Rotary.