WESTON, WV – First Lady Cathy Justice today visited Lewis County High School for a “Pup Rally” to celebrate the arrival of the state’s newest therapy dog through the Friends With Paws program.
The dog introduced at today’s event is named Jasper. She is a Yellow Lab.
“You are all incredibly special. In fact, your school is the first high school that we’ve given a dog to,” First Lady Justice said during the assembly. “I hope you all love Jasper as much as she loves you. Let her help you. If you’re having a bad day – maybe something isn’t going right – come see Jasper, she’ll make you feel better.”
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 greet Jasper.
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.
Schools that previously received therapy dogs through the Friends With Paws program include:
More dogs will be placed in other CIS schools across West Virginia throughout the year. 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 amount of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety, and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.
Also during Thursday’s ceremony, officials with DT Midstream and Orion Strategies ceremonially presented a check for $25,000 to the First Lady in support of the Communities In Schools program in Lewis and Braxton counties.