MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WV News) — First Lady Cathy Justice visited Moorefield Elementary School and Spring Mills High School this week for “Pup Rallies’’ to celebrate the arrival of the state’s next therapy dogs through the Friends With Paws Communities In Schools program.
The dog introduced at Wednesday’s Pup Rally at Moorefield Elementary School is named Shadow. He is a Black Labrador.
The dog introduced at the Pup Rally at Spring Mills High School is named Jet. He is a Yellow Labrador.
“This is a wonderful day for our students,” Justice said. “Shadow and Jet will receive so much love at these schools, and in return, what they are able to give back in emotional support for students suffering from trauma will be invaluable.”
First announced in March, the Friends With Paws program places certified therapy dogs in various CIS schools across the state, providing companionship and comfort for students in need of a boost.
Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort and support to people in various tense environments. They can help people feel at ease, improve their mood, relieve anxiety, and remove social barriers. Therapy dogs are highly trained and certified to show their ability to work in stressful environments, ignore distractions, and provide therapy to people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances.
Following both ceremonies, students and staff had the chance to greet their new therapy dog.
“The greatest benefit of having Shadow at Moorefield Elementary School is the effect on students’ social-emotional development,” said Wade Armentrout, principal of Moorefield Elementary School. “Our students and staff have already bonded with Shadow. Interacting with Shadow will improve students’ reading skills, stimulate memory and problem-solving skills, and even improve motor skills.”
“We have been eagerly awaiting Jet’s arrival to Spring Mills High School and welcome him to our school campus today,” said Mark Salfia, principal of Spring Mills High School. “Our staff is confident that Jet will play a key and unique role in the social and emotional learning environments and supports that we are creating through Communities In Schools that will benefit our students and staff.”
“I want to thank our school community for embracing and supporting Jet,” Salfia continued. “Our appreciation to First Lady Cathy Justice for her personal visit today and her complete confidence in the Friends With Paws Program and how it will support students at Spring Mills High School when they need a bit of comfort, care or a boost to their day.”
The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, West Virginia CIS Nonprofit, and the West Virginia Department of Education.
Therapy dogs are placed in schools within CIS counties where students are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance misuse, or other at-risk situations, and are in the greatest need of a support animal.
The dogs serve as a healthy and friendly outlet for these students to address trauma and other social-emotional issues.
Schools that previously received therapy dogs through the Friends With Paws program include:
• Coal, a male Black Labrador, at Welch Elementary, McDowell County
• Foster, a male Golden Labradoodle, at Buckhannon Academy Elementary, Upshur County
• Jasper, a female Yellow Labrador, at Lewis County High School, Lewis County
• River, a male Yellow Labrador, at Pineville Elementary School, Wyoming County
In October, Wayne Elementary School in Wayne County will receive a female Apricot Labradoodle named Winnie and Lenore PK-8 in Mingo County will receive a male Black Lab named Kylo. Friends With Paws also plans to place a therapy dog in CIS schools in Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties later this year.
Ten dogs will be placed in CIS schools in West Virginia in 2022. In 2023, Friends With Paws hopes to place ten additional dogs in CIS schools. The therapy dogs will belong to each individual school and will become part of the community.
A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in the classroom promotes positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body.
In addition, research shows that the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Therapy animals lower anxiety and help people relax, provide comfort, reduce loneliness and increase mental stimulation.
They are also shown to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, reduce the amount of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.