Pet Therapy Dogs Visit PRHS

Pet therapy dogs are regularly visiting Paso High, supporting the mental health of students and staff
Pups for petting: Birdi is one of three dogs that comes to the well space to visit with students. She is 11 years old and is close to retiring
Pups for petting: Birdi is one of three dogs that comes to the well space to visit with students. She is 11 years old and is close to retiring
Chloe Van Pelt

As today’s youth demonstrates a clear mental decline from other generations, one of the implemented solutions for students at PRHS comes with four legs, a wagging tail and a smile unmatchable by any human. Starting fall of 2022, pet therapy dogs have been coming to PRHS Tuesdays and Fridays, absorbing the attention of students in the main courtyard and the Well Space. Three pet therapy teams come with the purpose to talk to students and help them feel comfortable in their school. 

Students passing by the dogs in between classes have a second for a quick pet and others  sit down with the dogs to often chat about the pets they have at home during nutrition and lunch. Even just spending a little bit of time on campus with a friendly canine face is often a welcome change for students and teachers. 

Aliyah Perez-Martinez , a senior, visits the well space as often as possible when she sees the dogs are coming to visit. Having seven classes to manage and many outside responsibilities, having dogs to pet at school is a huge comfort and stress relief for her.

“I am just able to sit down and not think about my school and outside of school responsibilities and just sit and pet the dogs,” Perez-Martinez said.

Brandon Loera, the new wellness counselor as of Nov. 2023, has taken on the role of scheduling pet therapy dog teams on a weekly basis. He sees the benefits of having pet therapy dogs on campus not just for the students, but the teachers as well. 

Kailea Stolzfus Chloe VanPelt

“Our assistant principal would see the dogs in the courtyard during finals week and I saw his face just light up as he patted the dog,” Loera shared. 

Before working at the high school, Loera has not had any personal interactions with pet therapy dogs, but has friends who are nurses, seeking a bond with these dogs during their work shift at the hospital.  

“They tell me that they see the dogs and I think it’s kind of funny because they help relieve the stress of the nurses, not just the patients,” Loera said. 

One of three pet therapy dog teams, Judy Levine and her labradoodle, Bindi have been visiting the Paso High campus since the fall of 2022 when the well space was established. 

Levine, in her 20+ years of experience in animal therapy, explained that, “Pet therapy is an approach that recognizes that for many people animals provide a source of comfort and joy.”

Levine hasn’t just used intuitive Bindi for pet therapy but horses as well. She also supported stud

ents with physical and emotional challenges while doing volunteer work before she began working with dogs. 

The purpose of pet therapy dogs in schools is to not just improve mental health in students but also help them to feel assured in themselves academically. The Alliance of Pet Therapy Dogs (ATD), which tests and trains teams, explains having dogs on campus improves confidence, learning motivation, school attendance and reading skills in students who visit with these dogs. 

Students at the University of California, who have been involved in canine reading programs, experienced an increase in reading fluency from 12% to 30%. Other cognitive benefits shared by ATD are “Enhanced executive-functioning skills [and] stimulating memory and problem-solving skills”. 

Birdie in the Wellspace: Students during their lunch come into the wellspace to visit with the pet therapy dogs. Birdie has been visiting the high school for a couple years, supporting students and teachers. (Chloe Van Pelt)

Animal-assisted therapy, originally created in the 1960s, has not just been a part of the Paso High campus but many other schools in the county and state as well. San Luis Obispo High has dogs on campus in their animal science classes. A program called “Pet Hugs” on the campus of UC Berkeley focuses on bringing therapy dogs to their campus to “positively impact mood, reduce stress, and create connection”. UC Berkeley is not the only college, 60% have animal therapy on campus. 

With a mission to “share smiles and joy” Alliance of Therapy Dogs has certified over 17,000 teams in the US, Canada and PR. Three of those volunteer teams form a network of caring individuals that support the student body at Paso High. Four paws have been the solution to  supporting academic success and school connectivity at this high school.

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