This school year on the first Wednesday of every month, teams of therapy dogs and their handlers from Connecticut’s Pet Partners visit Morgan during the X-block period. The dogs come in and are available throughout the upper hub, the lower hub, and in the faculty lounge for students to sit with, pet, and just generally spend time around during their open period. The canine program is being offered to students this year in response to student focus group feedback indicating that stress levels are very high at Morgan. Research studies indicate that interactions with therapy animals can decrease stress in humans. “Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.” claims Animal Smart , a website offering science-based information about animals to kids. A research study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information finds that “just being in the presence of a companion animal, is associated with health benefits, including improvements in mental, social, and physiologic health status”.
All Pet Partners teams are insured, and risk management is very high, as Pet Partners requires the highest of standards from their teams. Pet Partners licenses the teams of dogs and handlers, requiring examinations, testing and recertification for the animals and the handlers every two years. It is an extremely safe program and best of all- is offered for no cost at all to the students. The handlers volunteer their time to be with the students, a genuine gift that benefits all parties!
Some examples of the dogs visiting include: an English Setter named Charlie, a German Shepard named Vago, a Rottweiler mix named Roxy, a Golden Retriever named Ares, a small Japanese Shih Tzu named Cocoa, an Australian Shepard named Gus, and numerous others!
Feedback from the students has been very positive about the visits. Some students really look forward to the first Wednesday of the month, knowing that their school day will include some dog time. From an informal survey taken in December 2016, PiC found that 36 of 36 students questioned felt that the dogs were a good idea to have at school. 33 out of 36 respondents stated that they experienced decreased stress from interacting with or viewing the dogs (29 reported that they had actually pet or interacted with the dogs personally). Some personal comments included: Cool Idea
Keep the dogs! They are great. I wish they came more often.
This is a good program to have.
Be wary of people with allergies, but it is a wonderful thing to have the dogs visit.
Bring the dogs all the time.
I would like them here every week!
Another informal survey done by the Morgan Paw Print staff found that “35 of the 40 students interviewed said that the dogs benefitted the students and that bringing them here is a great idea. 4 of the students interviewed were unsure, and only 1 of the interviewed students out of the 40 believed that the dogs were not a good idea, [citing reasons such as allergies].”
The canine program at Morgan serves as a reminder to students to make stress reduction a priority. Some students have shared that their peers make “having stress” into a competition sometimes, fighting for who has more to do, or who has more stress overall. They agree that it can lead to a very unhealthy environment! Pressures from self, parents, coaches, teachers, peers and college drive students to not sleep, over commit, and not make healthy choices, which leads to stress and ultimately physical and/or mental illness. From surveys completed recently by PiC, we have seen that depression and even suicidal ideation are factors in roughly 1 out of 5 Morgan students; substance use in response to stress (self medication) occurs in roughly 1 in 4 Morgan students. The need to develop smart, healthy stress reduction techniques is essential!
PiC is also planning individual workshops on stress during X block in the next couple of months. Students will be able to learn about their own stress responses, outline sensible plans for combatting stress, and even create small stress reducing accessories that they can use during the school day.