Therapy Dogs Providing Joy & Comfort in Warren County Schools: The Last Word
When I was a kid, the only time I would see a dog in school was when someone brought one in for show and tell. Now, you can see a dog every day in many schools in Warren County. They are making a difference.
Today is a special day at Warren Area High School. The building is being visited by all five of the school district's therapy dogs. Usually, it's one dog at one school. But today, the high school kids are receiving all the attention.
It was the idea of Dr. Patty Mead to establish a therapy dog program in the school district. She is the Director of Pupil Services. She and the school superintendent discussed the idea as early as 2019. But in the 2021-22 school year, the district was shocked by the sudden deaths of two students and a faculty member. The school board agreed that it was the right time to implement the "PAWSitive Support Program." Hero, a golden retriever and Pepper, a goldendoodle, were introduced in July 2022.
"Whether it's a need related to a child with a disability or a child without a disability, we make the dogs available throughout the school day. It's just been positive feedback the entire time," says Dr. Mead.
A district-wide survey was conducted to obtain feedback about the therapy dog program. The responses were very favorable. So, the school board acquired three more dogs in 2023. They are twin sisters Dee Dee and Wags Joan, along with Gus. Students say the dogs help them cope with stress and anxiety. During my visit, a group of students was taking an important AP Biology test.
"Our teacher asked us if we wanted to have the dogs come in. You should have seen the class. Their whole faces lit up with excitement,” said Conner Zaffino, a student in the class.
Ben Scott, a junior, was one of the excited students.
"It's definitely nice," he said. “It lightens the mood. High school is a stressful environment and to see these little fluff balls running around, it's a nice way to kind of cool off during the day."
It's not just the school kids who say they need some canine comforting. Teachers need it too.
"Oh my God. This is like the best day ever!” said one teacher as the dogs entered her classroom.
Some kids bring sadness, loneliness, and frustration to school. So, Hero is one of the first things students see when they enter Beaty-Warren Middle School each morning. Heather Stover is Hero’s handler.
"We have students who enter the building who are experiencing anxiety whether it's related to social interactions, or being out of the home for one reason or another, she said.
The therapy dogs were obtained from New Hope Assistance Dogs in Warren County. The trained handlers are school district employees who take the dogs home with them. By the way, placards are placed at the entrance of every classroom revealing when a student is inside who is allergic to animal fur.