Pawsitive Impact: Introducing an Therapy Dog to LFHS

Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Twice a year during finals week, students enjoy love and affection from dogs that the Paws For Patrick organization brings to the school. This can be an escape from the sea of stress and anxiety experienced by many students during finals week.

“I felt less stressed during and after I pet the dogs. There was a Golden Retriever, but it was super hard to pet him due to so many people excited to be around him,” said senior Alejandro Orestano.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, petting a dog reduces cortisol, the hormone that causes stress. Along with this, the interaction between dog and human raises your oxytocin levels and lowers blood pressure. 

Paws For Patrick is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to improving the mental health of young people through the emotional support of animals.” In the past years, Paws For Patrick has organized bringing the dogs to school many times. The organization’s main mission is to raise awareness of mental illness and give those who need it opportunities to connect with Emotional Support Animals (ESAs.)

Although these dogs are not yet present year-round at our high school, Everett Elementary in Lake Forest has had a therapy dog since last school year. 

Therapy dogs vary from ESAs in their breadth of people they support. ESAs are trained to specifically comfort specific people, while therapy dogs may support many different types of people. 

Moose, their black Labrador therapy dog, comes to school two to three times a week and is available to students in the “Team Read” room. The dog was adopted by the school and is primarily taken care of/goes home with teacher Mrs. Lyndsey Simala. 

Certain students at Everett have a specific schedule to meet with Moose; however, students can go see him for a calming effect or read with him during scheduled times.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Renee Fitzimmons. Moose, pictured in the Everett Elementary yearbook

Students say they are under intense stress.  They feel that they must cram their schedules with AP and Honors classes in order to strengthen their transcripts for college applications. On top of schoolwork, extracurriculars, and their social life, many students’ mental health is not their first priority.

“I’m extremely stressed right now. Even though I’ve already committed to my top choice college, I feel very overwhelmed by the workload I’ve received,” said senior Ashton Peterson. 

However, it is not only students who are feeling overwhelmed. Many faculty members also experience stress caused by their workload, like grading papers, meetings, and more.

However, logistics surrounding an animal being present at a large school with thousands of people in a building can be tricky.

Currently, Mrs. Maggie Harmsen, LFHS social worker, is working to have her own dog at our school. Hudson, her Golden Retriever, is already a certified Therapy Dog. The process of getting her dog to our school includes insurance, paperwork through the administration, and introducing the dog to the school community.

Harmsen anticipates that Hudson will be a member of the LFHS community by next school year. He will likely visit the library, classrooms, etc., and stay with her in her office during his downtime.

“Personally, my dog [at home] is very therapeutic to me and I would be excited to have that option at school,” said senior Jack Quick.

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    Jason KowalskiFeb 21, 2024 at 2:59 pm

    As someone who shares a house with a cat, I can confirm that domesticated animals provide calmness to those in the same room.

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