Sunny day! Sweepin’ the clouds away. On my way to where the air is sweet. Have you seen the Muppet service dog on Sesame Street?
Sesame Street has a long tradition of helping children develop basic skills as reading, math, comparison/contrast, and relationships, as well as to understand major health and social issues. The show made major headlines when longtime popular Muppet characters Bert and Ernie were featured on the cover of the New Yorker magazine in support of gay marriage, renewing the discussion, not only of whether the characters themselves are gay (the show’s Sesame Workshop claims they are neither intended to portray gay or straight relationships, but relationships between people in general), but of the social issues surrounding homosexuality.
Now, Sesame street is approaching the subject of kids with disabilities head-on by introducing a brand new Muppet—a golden Labrador retriever named Brandeis, who wants nothing more than to become a service dog. The episode in which the character was introduced aired on October 12 and featured real life Canine Companions dog Hercules, who helps Brandeis find his calling.
After failing to fold clothes in the laundromat and finding himself unable to sweep the floor because his paws don’t allow him the manual dexterity to fold clothes or hold a broom, Brandeis is understandably sad until popular Muppet Elmo notices another human character, Gina, working with a dog. Gina explains that the dog, Hercules, is being trained to work as a service dog that works with people who have special needs. The “career,” Gina tells Brandeis, takes a lot of intelligence and training, but Brandeis feels he’s up to the challenge.
During his training, Brandeis learns to do many of the tasks that we associate with service dogs; he can open drawers, turn on lights, and pick up and carry objects. Finally, after weeks of training Brandeis is assigned to his new human—Liliana, a young woman in a wheelchair. It doesn’t take long before Brandeis falls into his new position, helping her to open doors, turn on lights, and even fetching her book bag when it falls off her lap. The two become close friends and companions.
The episode is a touching one that takes great strides towards increasing visibility of service dogs and the duties they perform, and the way people with disabilities interact with the world. After 45 years, Sesame Street continues its longstanding tradition of raising awareness about important social issues, encouraging new generations of children to enthusiastically address some of society’s problems that still linger. Watch Brandeis sing about his dream, and then tell us who’s your favorite Muppet—and why!