Having four-legged friends in a school setting has proven benefits to both students and staff. Copperas Cove High School students were introduced to Sam, a rescue from the Copperas Cove Animal Control Facility, just in time to help calm their nerves and reduce their stress for semester exams.

Sam, a shepherd mix, belongs to 9th grade English teacher James OrtIz. Because of the dog’s gentle demeanor and sweet disposition, Ortiz wondered if Sam could help his students be more successful both in and outside the classroom.

“My next step was to research what I had to do to accomplish this because I knew there had to be training to do what I wanted to with Sam,” Ortiz said. “It took two to four weeks, including the training, for Sam and me. A therapy dog has certain requirements to meet for demeanor, behavior, commands, and focus. Though not as intense as a service dog’s training, if a therapy dog doesn’t meet any one of the requirements, the animal will not be certified.”

Ortiz and Sam walk the halls around 8:25 a.m. each day to greet students.

“Even students I don’t have in class approach Sam and me and start a conversation about him and their pets. Sam is a great conversation starter,” Ortiz said. ”It’s great way to get to know the students. A few students mentioned that they wanted to see Sam before they took their exams.”

On Sam’s first day, he was introduced to the special needs/life skills students.

“I teared up, seeing their faces light up and how loving they were with Sam,” Ortiz said. “Suffice it to say, Sam was drawn to them and he loved the attention.”

Ortiz has been teaching in Copperas Cove for 25 years at the elementary, junior high and now high school level.

“For as long as I have taught, I have seen many problems and issues our students have faced,” Ortiz said. “If having Sam can alleviate a student’s bad day, prevent a conflict or adolescent drama from turning into a fight, or just give a positive feeling for people, then Sam has done his job. If I had a therapy animal for those students in my past, I know it would have helped some of them, even if only to get through the day. When it comes to our students, the benefits of having a therapy dog on campus surely outweigh any argument against it,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz says he noticed students’ attitudes are more positive and they look forward to coming to class knowing Sam is there.

“There are a couple students who have severe anxiety and behavior issues who have responded well to Sam with their demeanor and attitudes changing for the positive when they approach Sam,” Ortiz said. “I have not had to send any students to the office, and I have only had Sam at school since the past week.”

RESOURCE BOX

According to one study published by the National Institutes of Health, having a dog present in the classroom promotes a positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body.

The simple act of petting a dog has the effect of lowering blood pressure and heart rate.

Pet therapy also lowers stress hormones, like cortisol, and increases oxytocin.

Just being in contact with a therapy dog calms children down when they’re upset and helps reduce their anxiety.

Reducing feelings of anxiety and depression enables students to focus on learning.

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