Peaceful puppies: Therapy dogs aim to comfort students


Photo by Ethan Kulp

Freshman Naomi Stillman spent her lunch playing with the therapy dogs.

Jessica Gallo, Guest Writer

Six therapy dogs and their owners stood on the front lawn of CESJDS on Oct. 8 waiting for the lunch bell to ring. They weren’t just here to play: as certified therapy dogs, they were here to work.  

Once the bell rang, students came outside and played with the dogs to destress as part of a wellness program taking place throughout the school year. The dogs were accompanied by their owners, volunteers from People Animals Love (PAL).  

“Being with dogs makes you happy and calm and feel safe, and we love being able to share that with everyone,” PAL volunteer Jessica Brede said.

PAL is a local organization that brings therapy dogs to schools, nursing homes, hospitals, rehab centers and libraries all over the Washington D.C. area.

Brede heard about the organization from a neighbor and wanted to get involved. She contacted PAL, paid 150 dollars to join and went to an orientation to get Devota, her American mutt, certified. Brede sees it as “not so much of a financial donation,” but a donation of time. Brede didn’t have to get Devota any other training besides the basic obedience training that she already had.

“She doesn’t have any special skills like a service dog would have; she can do basic obedience,” Brede said.

The dogs were brought to school to help students relax during the middle of the day in the first full week of school, which was much delayed following the Jewish holidays. PAL first came to JDS two years ago, before final exams. Guidance counselor Rachel Soifer worked with the administration to find an organization that was both insured and legally permitted to work with schools, and whose dogs were properly trained.

The idea was brought up again last year as part of a mental health awareness program initiated by the guidance department and the student-led Mental Health Awareness club (MHA).

“It gives kids a chance to remember that very relaxing, happy part of themselves that isn’t always present when they’re intensely into school,” Soifer said. “Many of us have pets at home and enjoy them at home, but it is a whole different feeling to be in the middle of your work or school day and have that feeling of joy and playfulness.”

The administration has been a large part of the wellness initiatives. Dean of Students Roslyn Landy has not only supported the therapy dogs’ visit but has enjoyed watching the happiness they bring to the students. She hopes to continue bringing PAL for future visits.

“The owners love coming because you guys are so adorable with their puppies. You kids love it. It’s a win-win situation,” Landy said.

For senior Shira Finke, being able to go outside and play with the dogs “instantly [made her] a lot happier.” Finke is in MHA and was part of the group of students who talked about wanting to bring therapy dogs to visit the school last year.

“I think stress does not help learning in any way and if there is any way our school can, even for just a moment, lower the stress level of kids, it could make the overall atmosphere of learning much better,” Finke said.

The therapy dogs’ visit is the first part of a year-long wellness program taking place in high school. There will be an art therapy session where students can draw and color to relax, a music therapy session where students can listen to calming music, and a yoga therapy session for students to stretch and relieve anxiety throughout the year.

The next event will be a quiet room held in the Exhibition Hall on Oct. 29. The room will be dimly lit with relaxing music and squishy chairs for students to sit and unwind for a bit. The programs will be repeated during the second semester, and the dogs will most likely return to JDS close to final exams. Finke is among the many students who look forward to their return.

“I think everyone just has to include something that brings happiness within their day to make them happier,” Finke said.