students petting dog

By Jeanne Neuwirth, Clinician

When Misha, Harley, McKenly, and Lucy recently visited South Plainfield High School, they melted the heart of everyone who met them! That’s because they are highly trained certified therapy dogs, who (along with their kind handlers) visited via the organization Attitudes in Reverse (AIR).

So far this year, Wellspring has organized 3 therapy dog visits at SPHS amounting to 125 student contacts and 50 staff contacts with these sweet dogs! Two prior visits this year were organized with Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs, and the students were fortunate to unwind with Peanut, Bogie, and Maggie and their kind owners.

You can feel and see the positive effects on students and staffers the moment they start interacting with the dogs, but did you know that science now backs up what we already feel? A recent hospital study found clinically significant improvements in pain, anxiety, depression, and well-being in patients who had a 10-minute visit with therapy dogs compared to those who did not (according to the peer-reviewed Canadian journal PLOS ONE).

“The therapy dogs are a really great release of stress for me and other students,” according to SPHS student Lisangel Cruz. “It’s honestly very relaxing when the therapy dogs come to the school because seeing the therapy dog at peace brings me peace. It’s also exciting to be able to learn about the dogs and view how unique they all are. I honestly love when they come because it’s just so cool and just brightens my day.”

All students and staff are invited to pre-register for these events, and the visits are promoted on the Wellspring Google Classroom, as well as SPHS’s TIGER TV. Visits are held throughout lunch periods in the school’s Calm Room, a comfortable quiet space.

AIR’s mission involves raising awareness of mental health struggles, increasing empathy, and decreasing stigma. AIR is unique in that therapy dogs accompany educators during all AIR mental health and suicide prevention programming from elementary through college age. Wellspring has organized AIR programming in several of the schools it serves.

Photo by Wellspring Staff

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