Photos courtesy W.Va. Governor's Office

Buckhannon Academy Elementary School welcomes new therapy dog through Friends With Paws program

BUCKHANNON, WV – Students at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School in Upshur County welcomed a new four-legged friend into their school today.

The school hosted a “Pup Rally” to celebrate the arrival of the state’s next therapy dog through the Friends With Paws program.

The dog introduced at today’s event is named Foster. He is a Golden Labradoodle.

“Today is a special day because when you meet Foster, it’s like you’re meeting a new classmate at your school. He is going to be your friend. He is someone who you can talk to and you can tell him anything,” said First Lady Cathy Justice, who spoke at the event remotely. “I am just so excited for you all.”

First announced in March, the Friends With Paws program places certified therapy dogs in several schools across the state, providing companionship and comfort for students in need of a boost.

Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort and support to people in various tense environments. They can help people feel at ease, improve their mood, relieve anxiety, and remove social barriers. Therapy dogs are highly trained and certified to show their ability to work in stressful environments, ignore distractions, and provide therapy to people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

Following today’s ceremony, students and staff had the chance to meet and play with Foster.

The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, West Virginia Communities In Schools (CIS) Nonprofit, and the West Virginia Department of Education. Therapy dogs will be placed in schools within CIS counties where students are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance misuse, or other at-risk situations, and are in the greatest need of a support animal. The dogs will serve as a healthy and friendly outlet for these students to address trauma and other social-emotional issues.

Earlier this month, Welch Elementary School in McDowell County received the first therapy dog through the program, welcoming a male Black Labrador Retriever named Coal. More dogs will be placed in other CIS schools across West Virginia throughout the year.

Lewis County High School in Lewis County will receive a female Yellow Lab named Jasper. Green Bank Elementary-Middle School in Pocahontas County will receive a male Yellow Lab named Jet.

Friends With Paws also plans to place a therapy dog in Hardy County later this summer. The initial goal of the program is to place a total of at least 10 dogs in West Virginia schools in 2022.

The therapy dogs will belong to each individual school and will become part of the community.

A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in the classroom promotes positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body. 

In addition, research shows that the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Therapy animals lower anxiety and help people relax, provide comfort, reduce loneliness, and increase mental stimulation. They are also shown to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, reduce the number of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety, and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.

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