- Shari Feeney, principal at Deane-Porter School in Rumson, N.J., writes for Edutopia that the presence of a therapy dog in elementary school can have significant benefits for students.
- Her school's therapy dog, Boomer, she writes, has been invaluable in calming crying or anxious students, alleviating fear of school in kindergartners, and generally cheering up everyone in the school. She adds that research has also shown the benefits of therapy dogs in lowering blood pressure, increasing dopamine and serotonin levels, helping children learn social skills, and boosting the confidence of young readers.
- Feeney does concede that dogs aren't for everyone, citing allergies, pet maintenance and fear of dogs, noting the importance of communicating the pros and cons with the school community before adopting a therapy animal.
For many students, a therapy dog can help reduce feelings of self-doubt and build a sense of belonging, overcoming two of the greatest roadblocks in learning. If students feel more confident, they're more likely to take more risks in their efforts at reading and contributing to class, in addition to being more relaxed during exams. This can be especially true for students with disabilities, who might also benefit from the dogs being trained in additional assistance skills like picking up dropped pencils.
Of course, while the research backs up the benefits, schools must ensure they cover all bases with concerns in the school community. All liability issues must be investigated, from allergies to fears and beyond, before a therapy animal program is launched. Ultimately, there's likely a comfortable compromise that can make everyone happy, allowing students who would benefit the most to spend time with therapy animals while the concerns of others are recognized and addressed.