Lending a Paw – Therapy Dogs at LSM

Mia Pickert and Alexis Osowiecki

Has your mood ever changed when a cat or dog enters the room? If so, you are not alone. Animals of all kinds are great at reading emotions and keeping people happy. A few minutes with a furry friend can turn your whole day around, and these kinds of interactions are very helpful in today’s stressful world.

A therapy dog visited Lewis Mills High School after former Director of Student Services, Dr. Dana Corriveau, made the initial proposal – the community unfortunately suffered the loss of two students this year, and a therapy dog named Addison was brought in to help students cope.

A student meets with the therapy dog, Addison.

The Torrington Police Department welcomed Addison to their team recently, where she works alongside handler and caregiver, Officer Hannah Yabrosky. Lewis Mills is one of the many places they have visited and provided their service.

Therapy dogs like Addison help provide comfort and emotional support during stressful events. An article published on Edutopia by Shari Feeney, a school principal, listed many of the positive benefits she has witnessed first-hand. Therapy dogs can help with lowering blood pressure and stress levels, increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin, helping children learn social skills, decreasing anxiety, and more. 

“I see students’ stress or anxiety affecting their ability to cope,” says Lewis Mills guidance counselor Joe Trahan. Not only are students affected, but school counselors can become overwhelmed or stressed because of the number of students they need to help.

“I think it’s helpful but not a long-term fix. It should be something used during high stress times,” said Trahan. The presence of therapy dogs can be useful, especially during the holiday season, during exams like the PSAT and SAT, or during the start of the school year when students are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Mitchell Arel is a student who visited the therapy dog and said petting the dog helped him relax and calm down. When you are stressed or unmotivated, those few minutes with an animal can help you get back on your feet and go on with your day. 

After the positive reception, Assistant Principal of Lewis Mills, Jennifer Otte, proposed various uses for the dog, including a grief group, empowerment group, structured lessons with the dog, and more.

But ideas like these also come with questions and concerns. Many people suffer allergies and cannot be around dogs. Some students could also suffer from a fear of dogs, which can negatively impact their learning environment. However, there are precautions that can be taken. Otte noted how if the therapy dog became a permanent addition to the school, “I think there would have to be better communication to the students and staff about who the dog is, the purpose of the dog.”

But when the idea of bringing the dog was first suggested by Dr. Corriveau, it was an “as-needed basis.” Some people may be hesitant about this idea, but after receiving input from students and administration, they too agree that this can be beneficial to the school community. Therapy dog visits could become more frequent in the future.