New York Therapy Animals Organizations visits the School

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Zachary Kurtz, Staff Writer

“I don’t have a dog at home, so any opportunity to be around a dog is great,” Gabriela Peralta (12) said. The fact that dogs seem less complicated than people and are loving no matter what is what made her want to come and experience this workshop, she said.

This Wednesday, Executive Director of New York Therapy Animals Nancy George-Michalson brought therapy dogs to the school  to allow students to experience the physical and mental health benefits of animal therapy.

The school worked with the New York Therapy Animals Organization, who trains therapy dogs and run programs involving them in New York City and Westchester. The dogs, Maizy, Sadie, Tyler, and Melodie, were on the stage in Gross Theater during D and E periods. Each dog was there with its owner, a member of New York Therapy Animals, who helped to facilitate the interaction between the students and the dog. Students played with the dogs in groups of four.

“Wellness Day is all about prioritizing mental health, and using dogs as a tool to cope with one’s anxiety and stress [it] is a very enjoyable thing,” Coco Trentalancia (11) said. The workshop gave students the opportunity to take their minds off of schoolwork, assessments, and other stressful aspects of their lives, she said.

Therapy dogs are a great way for people to relieve stress and anxiety, Westphal said. “If you shift your focus to something that really captivates your attention where you can really lose yourself in something that you enjoy whether it’s petting a dog, or doing a puzzle, or going for a walk, it can actually really change your mood in the course of a few minutes.” She hopes that students will find other ways to shift their focus in order to have that experience on a regular basis.

While she was petting the dogs on the stage, one of the dogs’ owners explained how petting dogs can help to lower a person’s blood pressure and stress levels, Daniella Herman (9) said. The dogs were all very cute and Herman was very happy to see the school bring them in for Wellness Day.

Playing with a pet has proven benefits and can increase someone’s serotonin levels, which makes them feel calm, Co-President of the Wellness Initiative Club (WIC) Riya Daga (11) said. The goal of Wellness Day is to improve the mental health of students at the school, so when students like a workshop a lot, the WIC tries to prioritize it in their planning process, she said.

Therapy dogs were first introduced at the school during the first Wellness Day in April of 2016. The dogs were a huge hit with students lining up out the door to go and play with them, Psychologist Dr. Liz Westphal said. When the event moved online in the spring of 2020 at the start of the pandemic, there was a workshop where students could interact with the dogs over zoom. However, this year’s’ Wellness Day This was the first time the therapy dogs have been back to campus since the pandemic began.

Daga visited the workshop during D Period and was thrilled to see how many students were lined up to play with the dogs, she said. Daga loved seeing how playing with the dogs picked up students’ moods and looks forward to having them return for Wellness Day next year, she said.