Therapy dogs to come more often to relieve student stress

Most students have probably noticed some new, furry faces wandering around campus every once in a while in the past year. These dogs are not considered to be your average Mater Dei visitors, rather they serve a much larger purpose in contributing to the emotional and mental well-being of the students they come into contact with. Considering this, administration has been permitting the entrance of comfort dogs to campus to interact and spend time with students and faculty.

“As a nurse I have experience in the hospital setting and hospital therapy dogs are really beneficial to our patients,” School Nurse Shannon Brown said. “So I had presented the idea to the administration to use them in the capacity of anxiety and so both the director of counseling and myself put together a proposal to see if that was something we could see about getting a full time dog on campus.”

The proven science behind the usefulness of dogs in stressful situations, is that they can be an anxiety reducer among youth in school settings. High blood pressure can increase anxiety, caused by your body releasing stress hormones that increase the heart rate and narrow blood vessels.

“[Dogs] are very therapeutic and can actually decrease blood pressure, so up to four strokes of an animal can decrease blood pressure by ten points,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of real scientific, objective data that we know using animals and animal therapy have helped and now we’re trying to move them into less of an acute setting and see if we can use them more therapeutically in school.”

Brown and school counselor Kellie Bauer, visited Orange Lutheran High School, who has brought a full-time therapy dog onto their campus, in order to gain perspective on their program. They learned about the pros and cons of comfort dog handling and care.

“When we visited the program and the therapy dog at Orange Lutheran [and] saw in action how the dog and the faculty [functioned together], we just knew this is something our students and community could benefit [from],” Bauer said.

While the school does not have an official comfort dog, dogs have been brought from the Orange County Animal Allies, as well as from the Santa Ana Police Department, for Special Games each year in the past. Orange County Animal Allies is a nonprofit with a focus on animal welfare by helping families who may not have the means to support their pets, while they also have various programs to bring comfort dogs to areas that need them according to Kevin Marlin, Executive Director of OC Animal Allies.

“…what we’re trying to do this year is partner with some community partners about bringing the dogs in at targeted times such as finals, where we know there’s a high peak for stress and anxiety.” Brown said.

The school administration appreciates the student, parent, and faculty feedback and hopes to bring dogs from Orange County Animal Allies at least once a week for the next few months. The long-term goal is for our school to have its very own therapy dog to aid students as much as possible.

Senior Isabelle Ta, who was able to spend time with one of these animals on Feb. 28, 2019, said that dogs are a fun way to relieve stress. “Usually I feel really stressed but I put it on myself and I think dogs are a great way to [de]stress… especially if you have a pet dog,” Ta said.

Bauer has explained that the student reception has been fabulous. “I can remember when we’re walking around with the dogs before finals in December and coming up here in the 400 wing, going down those classrooms and every time a student walks out they would just smile, even the teachers, it was really fun to observe,” Bauer said.