CUMMING, Ga. — They come to school panting with their tongues hanging out and grinning from ear to ear.
As the cars pull into Mashburn Elementary School, the dogs are rewarded for coming along for the ride. They are not allowed in the school, but in the car drop-off lane, there’s a treat for the canines.
For two years, Miriam Niemira, a physical education paraprofessional at Mashburn ES, has given milk biscuits to the dogs.
“It makes the students happy, the parents happy, it’s just a great start to the day,” Niemira said.
And that’s why she started doing this, to “start her day off better.”
“I had no idea how much it would brighten the other families,” Niemira said. “When you have dogs and somebody loves on your dogs, it makes them happy. When the dogs see me, you could just see them…The parents break in this big smile.”
Principal Tracey Smith said parents now bring boxes of biscuits for Niemira to hand out.
“Mashburn is such a community-based school,” Smith said. “Mashburn is the school we all went to when we were little, and she’s just part of our culture.”
Sometimes, the dog owners trick Niemira, when they drive up with dogs she has never seen before. But she’s pretty familiar with most cars and knows all dogs by name.
Rocky, a Jack Russell terrier, is her pen pal.
On a Wednesday morning last year, Niemira was wrapping up bus duty and had just missed Rocky. She asked her first-grade owner what the dog’s name was and grabbed her stationery.
She wrote: “Dear Rocky, I’m sorry I missed you in the car line. I can’t come to greet you until the buses are all here. Hope to see you Friday.”
She put a dog bone in the note and signed, “Love, Ms. Niemira.”
“She thought I was the hottest thing since sliced bread,” Niemira remembers.
On Friday morning, the little girl jammed a letter out of the car window.
“Here, from Rocky!”
Rocky wrote a thank-you note and placed his paw signature on the letter.
“It was hysterical. I still have that letter,” Niemira said.
Just then, Alex Bartling dropped off Patches, a Cavapoo. Niemira rushed over to the car, treats in hand.
“Patches freaks out and practically does back flips with excitement on the mornings that he goes with my husband and Ryan to the carpool line,” said Liz Bartling.
Niemira, who also heads up the school’s running club, said that once a family threw her for a loop.
“They brought their cat,” Niemira said. “I’m not giving a milk bone to a cat.”