(NORTH SALEM, NY) --Stress is at a peak at this time of the year for many high school students.
With finals, Advanced Placement and Regents exams on tap, many students are in need of some form of stress relief, so they can better tackle the tasks at hand.
On June 5, students at the Middle/High School were able to do just that, thanks to pet therapy coordinated by Jenna Murphy, who is making stress relief the key focus of her Girl Scout Gold Award.
“It was my friends and my peers who were so stressed out that made me think of this. I really don’t stress. But seeing all my friends freaking out about tests this time of the year, crying when they are over, I thought it would be really great to de-stress everybody,” said Murphy.
Murphy brought in PAWS For a Cause—which is made up of dogs and their handlers who are highly trained to provide emotional support to those in need.
Research has found that the petting, touching and talking to animals can improve emotional health, as well as alleviate stress.
Students were given the opportunity to meet with Oscar, a 3-year-old Cavapoo therapy dog trained with Sue Henson of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Scott Weintraub who came with Chance, a 2-year-old German Shepherd, another certified therapy dog.
“The dogs are basically just there to listen,” said Henson. “They go to all kinds of places from schools to nursing homes and hospitals and other places where people and families are stressed. We all like to be heard. These guys are listeners,” she said, referring to the dogs.
Both dogs are Red Cross volunteers who have worked with people in crisis situations, and have Department of Defense clearance to work as therapy dogs at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Chance most recently visited with service members aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid on Memorial Day, and has worked with veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Montrose. Oscar has worked with the R.E.A.D. program whose “goal is to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.”
“Basically, it’s our job to make people feel better,” said Weintraub. “We’ve only been doing this for a little over a year. For the testing, dogs basically have to be very well behaved,” he added.
The dogs were able to mingle for about an hour with the 20 or so students from the Middle/High School who turned out to benefit from the destressing therapy.
“The dogs are really, really cute!” said Emily Lehr, “That alone is enough to destress you!”
Much of the interaction was non-verbal as students and administrators alike snuggled, pet and closed their eyes as they hugged the dogs Zen-like, oftentimes with intensity, where they were seemingly unaware of their surroundings.
“It’s really rewarding to have a therapy dog,” explained Weitraub, “I’ve had people walk up to me that said to me in the hospital, you just made my day.’”
He also recalled several veterans with PTSD, who were transformed by pet therapy.
“Absolutely,” he said.“We are not allowed to ask them what is going on with them, I’m not a psychologist, but we can bring the dogs in, let them do their thing, and have seen vets open up afterwards.”
In addition to holding the de-stressing session with the pet therapy dogs, Murphy has created a flyer for her fellow students containing destressing tips that include breathing exercises, power naps, chewing gum, visualization, exercise, music and a stress reliever called progressive muscle relaxation (PMR.)
“Staying positive and organized are also great ways to remain free of stress,” Murphy concluded.