Nova Scotia

Sailor's got mail: N.S. puppy and Alberta school kids are cross-country pals

A purse-sized pooch near Halifax, N.S., is teaching kids in Okotoks, Alta., how to read, write and have fun across the miles during the pandemic.

Field trips and recess with other school kids are gone, but pen pal pooch is sending fun

Sailor is a combination bichon frise/shih tzu and has become a class pen pal pet. (Rhonda Dennis)

A tiny, fluffy white puppy near Halifax, N.S., is bringing fun back into this pandemic school year for some six and seven-year-olds in Okotoks, near Calgary, Alta.

They have become pen pals.

Despite the 4,700 kilometres that separate them, the kids in Brigid Taylor's Grade 1 class at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir school are finding they have things in common with four-month-old Sailor.

"They can delight in her growing," Rhonda Dennis, Sailor's owner, said on Friday. "They're also recognizing they're growing, too. So they're losing teeth. She's losing teeth."

Dennis and Sailor live in Head of St. Margarets Bay, a community by the sea. It's also where Taylor spent her summers at the cottage, and where her mom still lives.

Dennis shared the excitement with Taylor over newborn Sailor at Christmas.

Brigid Taylor says students are learning, laughing, and empathizing through being pen pals with Sailor. (Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School)

"So I reached out to Rhonda with the idea of the children and Sailor becoming pen pals. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to broaden their world," said Taylor in an email.

Their school life has shrunk to their classroom bubble of 16 during COVID-19.

During the last year, the students have been missing out on field trips, parents volunteering in the classroom, and playing with kids in other grades at recess. Taylor is trying to help her students build friendships beyond their classroom — with wee Sailor.

Since January, Sailor and the school kids have been exchanging letters the old-fashioned way, via Canada Post. Even as the children sit behind safety glass shields — Alberta public health officials are concerned about a third wave as variant cases reached a new high on Friday — each student connects with a dog who is now the class pet.

They express curiosity and caring in giant letters for a purse-sized pooch.

Rhonda Dennis opens all of Sailor's mail. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Dennis is getting a kick out of Sailor's exchange with the children, "How much they love her, how soft her fur is, [and] not to worry about her first bath, it'll be OK," she said with a bright smile about the pile of letters.

"They want to know who her friends are and what she does all day," said Dennis.

Beside learning how to read and write, the students are learning about respecting another species. 

They're also getting a grasp of the vast size of Canada and its diverse geography — from the Foothills of Alberta they're discovering the ocean playground that is Nova Scotia. 

They're interested in hearing how Sailor is going to live up to her name and learn to sail.

"Most importantly though, the children have made a new friend in a time when new connections are hard to forge," said Taylor.

Taylor shows pictures of Sailor as she guides students on letter writing. (Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School)

Sailor has brought out what's natural in relationships — discovering what they have in common. 

As Sailor's owner, Dennis gets to handle mail that's a pleasure to receive. "It's wonderful because she doesn't have hands. I get to open the envelopes and see everything."

In return, each child receives a personalized, hand-written letter with thanks for their thoughtfulness and kindness. 

It's Sailor's way.

Sailor's letter to each student is signed the same way. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)



Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at