PINEVILLE, WV – Last week, First Lady Cathy Justice visited Pineville Elementary School (PES) for a “Pup Rally’’ to celebrate the arrival of the state’s next therapy dog through the Friends With Paws Communities In Schools (CIS) program.
The dog introduced at today’s event is named River. He is a Yellow Lab.
“Friends With Paws is already making a positive impact on school attendance and in assisting children who have experienced trauma,” First Lady Justice said. “River will be a great addition to an already strong team at Pineville Elementary. I’m very excited that we are able to place a therapy dog here.”
First announced in March, the Friends With Paws program places certified therapy dogs in various CIS schools across the state, providing companionship and comfort for students in need of a boost.
Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort and support to people in various tense environments. They can help people feel at ease, improve their mood, relieve anxiety, and remove social barriers. Therapy dogs are highly trained and certified to show their ability to work in stressful environments, ignore distractions, and provide therapy to people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances.
Following the ceremony, students and staff had the chance to greet River.
“We are extremely excited to welcome River to the PES staff,” said Wyoming County Schools Superintendent Deirdre Cline. “Just like our other staff members, we know that River will work hard to provide a wonderful learning experience for our students.”
“We believe the work River will do at PES will directly impact attendance and social emotional learning immediately,” added Assistant Superintendent John Henry. “He will bring a lot of joy to the school from day one.”
“We are looking forward to the impact that River will have with his work at PES,” said Pineville Elementary School Principal Melanie Keefer. “He will be a large part of our greeting committee to welcome our students each day.”
The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, West Virginia CIS Nonprofit, and the West Virginia Department of Education. Therapy dogs are placed in schools within CIS counties where students are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance misuse, or other at-risk situations, and are in the greatest need of a support animal. The dogs serve as a healthy and friendly outlet for these students to address trauma and other social-emotional issues.
Schools that previously received therapy dogs through the Friends With Paws program include:
•Coal, a male Black Labrador, at Welch Elementary, McDowell County
•Foster, a male Golden Labradoodle, at Buckhannon Academy Elementary, Upshur County
•Jasper, a female Yellow Labrador, at Lewis County High School, Lewis County
Later this month, Moorefield Elementary School in Hardy County will receive a male Black Lab named Shadow and Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County will receive a male Yellow Lab named Jet.
Friends With Paws plans to place a therapy dog in CIS schools in Wayne, Mingo, Pocahontas, and Greenbrier counties later this year. Ten dogs will be placed in CIS schools in West Virginia in 2022. In 2023, Friends With Paws also plans to place ten additional dogs in CIS schools.
The therapy dogs will belong to each individual school and will become part of the community.
A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in the classroom promotes positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body.
In addition, research shows that the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Therapy animals lower anxiety and help people relax, provide comfort, reduce loneliness, and increase mental stimulation. They are also shown to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, reduce the amount of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety, and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.