Adopt a School Therapy Pet

By BA, MA LAUREEN KEEFER

Overview

This past year has been one of unprecedented isolation and anxiety as we have faced the first global pandemic in our current living generations’ memory.  One idea that can help make school more enjoyable and even a potentially healing experience is to invite a therapy pet into the school. Whether the therapy animal is selected to maintain a constant daily presence in the school as the pet of a teacher or staff member, or are brought in for weekly or monthly visits by a parent or community member, regular exposure to a friendly therapy animal could be just what today’s students need to improve their overall wellbeing and positive attitude towards going back to school.

Not every student has the opportunity to have a pet at home, and so may not be able to experience the healing benefits of spending time around a friendly animal such as a dog or cat.  The Alliance of Therapy Dogs is one organization that provides testing and certification of dogs who become therapy animals.  They provide an international registry of certified therapy dogs and their humans, which welcome invitations from schools to bring a trained therapy dog to visit.

https://www.therapydogs.com/therapy-dogs-classrooms-campuses/

Expected Impact

Once a school decides to invite a therapy pet to visit, what type of positive impact will they see?

Just being able to pet or cuddle a friendly dog or cat can have remarkable positive impacts on a students overall health and wellbeing!

Working with a therapy dog or cat at school can:

  • increase empathy
  • improve self-esteem
  • improve social skills and ease social isolation
  • lower blood pressure and reduce stress
  • decrease anxiety
  • improve mood
  • increase school attendance
  • increase levels of dopamine and serotonin
  • help students read with greater confidence

Adopt & Adapt

Therapy Pets are registered and certified and trained along with their owners to visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.  Because they are volunteers, there would be no cost involved with inviting a Therapy Dog or Cat to visit the school.  The only thing the required would be a few phone calls to locate a volunteer willing to bring their certified dog or cat to the school for a trial visit, and if it works out as great as anticipated, to schedule regular visits.

While the positive benefits to inviting a therapy pet to visit the school are numerous and well-documented, there are also valid concerns that will need to be addressed.  What will be done to accommodate a student who is either afraid of an animal, or allergic to it?  In many cases, a fear of animals is the result of either a negative experience in the past or simple lack of experience around animals.  Both fears can be overcome, often simply after observing peers interacting with the animal in a positive way. Students with an allergy to the therapy dog or cat can be accommodated either by being allowed to leave the room or sit on the opposite side of the room from the therapy pet, or by taking an over-the-counter allergy tablet before school the day a therapy pet will be visiting.

Please Read:

Animals in Schools, Topic Brief, June, 2018
by Sarah Kavan, Angela Prince, Mary Jo Anderson, Nicole Bricko, Natalie Hoff & Reece Peterson
https://k12engagement.unl.edu/strategy-briefs/Animals%20in%20Schools%205-30-18.pdf

No One Can Believe How Good This Therapy Cat Is At His Job
By Caitlin Jill Anders Published on 2/2/2017
https://www.thedodo.com/therapy-cat-works-with-kids-2233835218.html

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