Therapy dogs help WA students take a pause

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Julianna St. Paul

One of the three therapy dogs being pet by students. This dog is relaxed and calm to help the stressed students.

Julianna St. Paul

On Thursday, January 23, Westford Academy’s club NOWA, an acronym for ‘No One Walks Alone’ brought in therapy dogs to the school to help students who were stressed about midterms.

NOWA brought in three dogs and their owners to the aux gym. There were different times set up for each grade to go down to the gym to see the therapy dogs, to reduce the number of people in the gym at a time. 

The club NOWA is a national initiative for mental health. NOWA also stands for taking action in your community and breaking stigmas surrounding mental health. NOWA leaders, seniors Audrey Sequeira and Lauren Elkins, were able to bring the dogs into WA to help out the students and faculty.  The girls were able to bring the dogs in through an organization called Pets and People. This is a nonprofit organization that agreed to help out NOWA however they could with the dogs. Similar processes have been done at schools around WA, including Groton Dunstable, Acton Boxborough

“They do this a lot at those schools, so I reached out,” Elkins said.” The response from bringing in the dogs was overwhelmingly positive.”

“Probably a little more than 200 people came, we got a lot of positive feedback. This was really rewarding to see everyone enjoying themselves. Even teachers came down to see the dogs,” Sequeira said.

NOWA plans on bringing the dogs back for finals after many requests and positive remarks about the dogs.

The dogs were there to calm the nerves of the stressed students on the day of the midterms. When entering the gym it was quiet and peaceful. The dogs available ranged from small to large. The difference in size was good because certain people might be scared of larger dogs and might feel more comfortable around a smaller dog. This was also pleasant because, since there were multiple dogs, this meant that more people could go to the dogs and it was not very crowded. 

Around the school, many people from all grades showed up and waited outside the gym for their time to come to see the dogs. The separate times that students from different grades could go to the gym and see the dogs were very organized and allowed for adequate enough time for people to see the dogs. The dogs were at WA from 12:30 to 2:00 after classes.

The dogs were said to have relaxed the students and help them decompress after classes and get ready for midterms. The students who visited the dogs left feeling calm and less stressed. 

The purpose of therapy dogs is to calm people and to help them de-stress. Therapy dogs are different from service dogs. The main difference between therapy dogs and service dogs are, therapy dogs are brought to a user, whereas a service dog belongs to their owner. Therapy dogs are brought to schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Further straining the similarities between therapy dogs and service dogs.

“Research has shown therapy dogs can reduce stress and provide a sense of connection in difficult situations,” an article on The Conversation said regarding the benefits of therapy dogs for students.

Some of the staff members at WA have stated their support for the therapy dogs. The support for the therapy dogs has made bringing in the dogs to the school easier. The WA librarians both made statements showing their support for the dogs. 

“I think it’s fantastic, I’m thrilled that they brought them in here, its a good idea,” Harde said.

This shows how the school faculty agrees with the ideas to bring the dogs to WA.

“I think the goal would be for them to be used as an opportunity to take a pause, decompress and have a calming effect on the students,” Monaghan said.

NOWA also has other projects in the works. The club is planning a mental health discussion night. This discussion would bring in a panel of speakers. These speakers would help by talking about personal experiences. One of the speakers coming to this event is Ms. Hanly, the Stony Brook nurse. She will come and talk about mental health, as a parent who has dealt with mental health first-hand. The audience will be able to ask the panel any questions they have. The main topic will be balancing self-care with academics.