Amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, one New Jersey elementary school teacher and his beloved pit bull are spreading a message of kindness and inspiration.
For two years now, Chris Hannah has been bringing Cole the Deaf Dog -- his own pet pit bull whom he adopted three years ago, and got certified as a therapy dog -- into the classroom at Dr. William Mennies Elementary School in Vineland, New Jersey to play with the students and teach them about friendship and overcoming disabilities and obstacles.
Now, with schools across the country having to shut their doors due to social distancing mandates, Chris has had to get creative with how he shares Cole's radiant joy and positivity. Along with doing virtual visits on YouTube, the dynamic duo hosted a celebratory parade in the "Cole-Mobile" to allow students a chance to see their favorite furry friend.
"He's like a rock to [the kids]," Chris told ET in a recent interview from his home in the Garden State. "They look at him as a symbol of hope. We talk about his story, his disability… and they look at him as a symbol that they can conquer things, and that they can persevere through a lot."
"When this whole thing started happening, it was so important that they stay in contact with him," Chris explained. "Especially now, because they need him now more than ever."
In response, the students turned out with hand-painted signs, posters and messages of love scrawled in chalk on their drive ways to cheer Cole on during the drive-by visit.
With social distancing protocols in place, it wasn't just Chris' students who were suddently cut off from their time with Cole, but veterans at the Vineland Veterans Memorial Home as well. But again, Chris and his cheerful canine found a way to visit residents by greeting from outside their windows.
"When we did the first visit with the veterans, though the windows, emotionally it was extremely difficult, because they are like a second family to us," Chris shared. "But to see the reaction of them coming to the windows… it just pulls on the heartstrings."
Sadly, Cole hasn't been able to visit the patients at the local hospice facility at all since the coronavirus outbreak. However, Chris has a special Cole pillow -- shaped like the pit bull and printed with his photo on it -- for one patient who relies on the inspiring dog for emotional support.
And now, with virtual Cole visits on YouTube -- as well as more parades and various different methods of making sure Cole gets a chance to touch the hearts of all those who love him -- Chris says his beloved dog is providing a great deal of hope in these trying times.
"Every day is another ray of sunshine that we see coming from [him]," Chris shared, later adding a hopeful message about overcoming the challenges we face as a world: "We can all persevere and get through this, but we have to work together."