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Therapy Dogs in Schools Are an Invaluable Resource

In highly competitive high schools, where pressure to get all A's is unrelenting, many students suffer from anxiety and depression ("It Takes a Suburb: A Town Struggles to Ease Student Stress," The New York Times, Apr. 5).  These schools deserve credit for trying to address the problem through various strategies. 

But they overlook the potential that therapy dogs offer ("Therapy Dogs in Schools - The Benefits To Students And Teachers Explained," companionanimals.org/therapy-dogs-in schools, Apr. 3).  These carefully selected and trained canines can be just what is required to calm anxious and depressed students.

They also can be highly effective in dealing with disruptive students, whose presence in the classroom concerns newly licensed teachers, regardless of their subject expertise, more than any other issue.  I realize that students disrupt classes for a variety of reasons.  But I submit that even the worst of them can be helped with therapy dogs.  They've been used successfully for years in nursing homes and hospitals.  People who are severely depressed or agitated have exhibited dramatic changes when visited by these dogs.

In a litigious society such as ours, I can understand why principals might be reluctant to allow dogs in classrooms.  There are legitimate liability concerns such as bites, allergies etc.  But I believe these pale in comparison with the benefits.  The presence of therapy dogs can enable students to work through anger, bullying, anxiety and other issues.  Not all dogs are suited for this kind of work any more than all dogs are suited for detecting drugs.  However, they can prove to be just what teachers need to comfort students and make learning meaningful.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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