From the time I was knee high to a grasshopper, I benefited from my companionship with a dog. Dad served a long and important role in the United States Army Air Corps during and following World War II. Thus, I was born in Nebraska at an active duty base at Fort Kearny, a historic outpost of the United States Army founded in 1848 along the Oregon Trail. “Brier,” my Sheepdog Border Collie, kept Mom and me company while Dad served, including an assignment in the postwar Occupation of Japan. Indeed, Brier served as my “therapy dog.”
Thus, my attention at our February 8, 2022 Board of Education meeting focused on Policy 2023— Therapy Dogs (Emotional Support Dogs). As I read the policy, I laughed again at the antics of our current West Virginia Governor Jim Justice with his dog, “Baby Dog.” He has a COVID-19 vaccination program with the catchy phrase: “Do it for Baby Dog!”
West Virginia’s First Lady Cathy Justice shares the limelight with her husband. She also shares his passion for dogs. In fact, Cathy Justice speaks to the importance of helping address the mental health challenges of our mountaineer students by instituting therapeutic and support programs using dogs. Thus, our BOE works out Policy 2023.
Upshur County Schools, including seven elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school, understand that mental health challenges and psychiatric disorders respond well to therapy dogs. With our opioid epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic, our students are suffering emotional challenges that may be the result of physical health problems. Therapy dogs can help. Even pain may lessen in those who participate in dog-assisted therapy.
Likewise, our BOE endorses the use of trained, certified and properly handled therapy dogs to assist in providing educational opportunities for students diagnosed and/or identified as benefiting from emotional support dogs. As I listened to the enthusiastic support, I recalled the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center therapeutic intervention for our combat post-traumatic stress disorder patients at our Clarksburg program. Upon my word, those bedside visits by therapeutic dogs helped as much or more than my doctor bedside manner.
I had an early lesson learned from my Doctor Dad, who often quoted Benjamin Franklin, the creator and publisher of “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” a perennial best seller in the early days of the United States of America. Franklin observed, “There are three faithful friends—an old wife, an old dog and ready money!”
As our BOE goes forward with therapy dogs, we anticipate some benefits like…
2.1 improving motor skills and joint movements
2.2 improving assisted or independent movement
2.3 increasing self-esteem
2.4 increasing verbal communication
2.5 developing social skills
2.6 increasing willingness to join in activities
2.7 improving interactions with others
2.8 motivating willingness to exercise
2.9 Other benefits of the use of therapy dogs include:
2.9.1 making one feel happier, less depressed, and with an improved outlook on life
2.9.2 decreasing loneliness and isolation by giving one a companion
2.9.3 reducing boredom
2.9.4 reducing anxiety because of its calming effects
2.9.5 helping children learn empathic and nurturing skills
2.9.6 improving the relationship between the individual and the healthcare provider.
Therefore, my lesson learned can be summed up by pondering my earliest life lesson — “Brier” and “Greenbrier” were as inseparable as our names. We were best friends.