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Feature

Service dogs offer health, social benefits in classrooms

Riley Johansen | Staff Editor

Mason Middle has gone to the dogs, but these furry friends won’t eat your homework.

As you walk the school halls, you may notice the pitter patter of puppy paws accompanying the student stampede. Unlike your common household pet, these dogs aren’t always for petting. They’re at work. According to support education teacher Kim Rolph, the dogs are very helpful when it comes to stress and anxiety.

“Specifically dogs are known for just calming, a lot of kids that have autism that tend to have more anxiety will be calmer when a dog is around.” Rolph said. “I feel like for a lot of the kids it’s calming when a dog comes in the room, there is just a calming effect and I think that when they walk through the halls, down the hallways, the kids in general are drawn to an animal.”

These dogs are brought by Therapy Dogs of Greater Cincinnati, and they join support education students on Thursday mornings. According to Glenna Mockbee, the leader of the organization, the dogs are an accepting companion.

“(The dogs) don’t care what the child looks like, or anything like that,” Mockbee said. “They just love to be with the kids and the kids benefit from seeing how much the dogs love them.”

According to medical studies, therapy dogs can lower blood pressure, promote physical healing, reduce anxiety, fatigue and depression, and give emotional support to not only students, but also to adults such as senior citizens and veterans.

The life of a dog may seem relaxing, but the school’s newest service dog, according to school nurse Beth Stewart, Maverick works ‘like a dog’  when it comes to helping his owner.

“One of the things (the dog) does is the student can get busy and forget (about checking their blood pressure) because the dog is with a diabetic student, so the dog alerts him when his blood sugar might be dropping,” Stewart said. “It’s been helpful when the student is busy and kind of forgets to check their blood sugar and the dog will alert him. It does this to keep him safe and healthy ultimately.”

But Stewart said MMS wouldn’t be able to have these dogs around if it wasn’t for the students understanding and respect of the seriousness and needs of the dog.

“I feel like all the kids in the school when this dog is around, they really understand and respect that they’re not supposed to interact with or be talking to the dog a lot, because the dog is actually working,” Stewart said.

Though these dogs are at work, Rolph said they help her students interact with others.

“Not only do the kids help out with the dogs, but the dogs return the favor,” Rolph said.  “They are able to introduce the dog to one of their peers, so it kind of encourages the kids to have those social interactions that they may not. Now there is something else that’s a focus besides them, so they use the dog to approach and interact and engage in a conversation.”

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