Last year I filed a report about therapy dogs used for Wheaton North High School students that were having a hard-time coping with life’s issues. After that article, Wheaton North discontinued the use of therapy dogs, however, this year it was suggested to me that a boy with a severe disease may be getting a therapy dog; what was not suggested was whether or not that dog would be going to school with the young man.
Many schools are utilizing therapy dogs – including colleges – to help students with mental health issues to cope. The dogs are trained specifically to work with students to give them a better understanding of how a positive outlook can affect their emotional welfare.
Although dogs have been used for a number of years in many classrooms, the extent of their use continues to grow with each passing year. More and more definitions of the dog’s skills are being determined. One such organization that trains the dogs for these specific types of settings is C.A.R.E.S. (Canine Assistance, Rehabilitation, Education and Services, Inc.).
C.A.R.E.S. is a 501(c)3 organization based out of Kansas. The organization was founded in the spring of 1994 specifically so that its founder, Sarah Holbert, could help people live independently within her community. Not only is the organization available to empower people with special needs, the organization has provided jobs to over 50 individuals; 75% of that statistic are low-income single mothers!
There are many types of skills that the therapy dogs can teach in a classroom. First and foremost is the fact that students with therapy dogs are much more approachable by all school personnel, including teachers, counselors and principals per the Delta Society. Delta is an organization that helps train the dogs.
Second, those associated with the educational process have reported that the students want to mimic the actions of the dogs, thus if a dog behaves well in the classroom, so will the student. There is much less interruption this way.
Students are expected to memorize a sequence of commands in order to get their dogs to perform their specific tasks. These memory skills also help the students to function better.
Not only do students that listen to classical music have higher IQs, students that have interaction with the dogs also have higher IQs. This helps the students in all walks of life.
Students learn the tenacity and devotion of the dogs by playing games such as hide-and-seek with the animals. Dogs are not as good at the game, but they never give up searching for their person!
Students with mental issues are not always taught to have empathy or how to treat living things with respect. When a student has a therapy dog, however, once the relationship is built, they learn to do almost anything to protect their canine friend. They learn not to harm their dog thus preventing them from abusing animals in the future.
The Assistant Director of Health Services for UC Merced was interviewed about animal therapy. Greg Spurgeon, the Director had this to say, “It’s been shown that animals can reduce heart rates and lower stress levels. We like to do positive things to impact student wellness, and everyone likes animals.”
Two of the top 10 colleges allowing therapy dogs are in Illinois. They include: Principa College in Elsah, Illinois and the University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign.