As the first car pulls into the drop-off area in front of Chickahominy Middle School in Hanover County each morning, John Savage knows just who’s headed his way. “Bear is always first. She’s an English Mastiff, and she literally takes up the entire back seat of a full-sized Chevy Suburban! And Bear’s head is as big as a basketball, maybe bigger. By the time she gets to me, there is drool from one end of the car to the other!”
Bear is just one of a growing group of four-legged family members who make the daily morning commute to drop off their human siblings at CMS, and they come for one reason and one reason alone – the treats!
“I’m not even sure how it started,” Chickahominy teacher’s aide John Savage says of the now beloved CMS morning ritual. “While I was monitoring morning drop-off, making sure everything runs smoothly, I noticed that a few dogs were in the cars, maybe three or four, so one day, I brought a few of my dog’s treats from home to give them. I guess other parents started to notice, and they started bringing their dogs.” Now upwards of thirty dogs make the trip to CMS each morning, eagerly waiting for the treat they know is coming.
“Pavlov’s response is real!” Angela Sykes, mom of an eighth grader at CMS, jokes. “Chip starts drooling while we’re waiting to turn into the school!” Chip, a four-year-old lab mix rescue, looks forward to seeing Savage every day, and so does Angela. “We love his dog drive-through so much – it’s the highlight of Chip’s day! Mr. Savage manages to make middle school a warm, welcoming place upon arrival – now that’s a talent!”
Savage, a second-year aide at CMS, pivoted his career after Covid forced his business to close, and he has enjoyed his time inside the school. “When I closed my business, I decided to help out here at school, where my wife also works, and I have really enjoyed learning more about how schools operate.” Deciding to stay in the field, Savage has just accepted a full-time teaching position as an environmental science teacher at Mechanicsville High School for the 2022-2023 school year, putting his environmental science degree from East Carolina University to work.
Savage has always had dogs at home and loves starting his day greeting the pooches and their families. “I love it. I absolutely love it. The dogs are very consistent in what they do every morning. It’s easy to see their personalities. Some of them get so excited.” He tries to remember all their names, but it’s getting harder as the number of daily visitors continues to grow. “There’s Bear, Chip, and Teddy. And Walter, a Collie. And Charlie and Ozzie, of course.” When asked if any of them have ever escaped their car accidentally, he recalled with a chuckle, “Once! I can’t remember what kind of dog it was, but he was FAST! We were all trying to catch him – me, Officer Hutton, the owner, the owner’s child – we looked like the Keystone Cops running around!”
Savage hopes to be able to bring his chihuahua mix, Noel, to morning drop-off one day before the school year ends.
“Mr. Savage has brightened the days of many dogs and people by sharing his joy with everyone,” says Sara Diep, mom of an eighth grader at CMS. “We all look forward to seeing him every morning. No matter the day of the week, mood, or weather, Mr. Savage always has a smile and a treat to start the day off great!”