HINTON (WVDN) – On Friday, Feb. 10, first lady Cathy Justice visited Hinton Area Elementary School for an assembly to celebrate the arrival of the state’s next therapy dog through the Friends with Paws Communities in Schools (CIS) program.
The therapy dog is a cream labradoodle named Marshal.
“Marshal is going to be a great addition to Hinton Area Elementary,” Justice said. “He is specially trained to know when students are having a bad day or if there is something that is bothering them. I know he will make such a positive impact on the students.”
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. Since April 2022, 10 Friends with Paws therapy dogs have been placed in CIS schools across the state.
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 Friday’s assembly, students and staff had the chance to greet Marshal.
“Marshal is really going to be an asset and enhancement to what we currently have in place to address the social emotional needs of our students,” said Hinton Area Elementary School principal Angela Gumm. “We, here at HAE, truly believe that you have to Maslow before you can bloom. That means you must address students’ basic needs first, and then you can be more successful with the academics. We are so excited to have Marshal as part of our school family, all working together to meet the needs of our students.”
The Friends with Paws program is a partnership between the governor’s office, West Virginia Communities in Schools and the West Virginia Department of Education. Therapy dogs are 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 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:
• Coal, a male, black Labrador, at Welch Elementary, McDowell County;
• Foster, a male, golden Labradoodle, at Buckhannon Academy Elementary, Upshur County;
• Jasper, a female, yellow Labrador, at Lewis County High School, Lewis County;
• River, a male, yellow Labrador, at Pineville Elementary School, Wyoming County;
• Shadow, a male, black Labrador, at Moorefield Elementary School, Hardy County;
• Jet, a male, yellow Labrador, at Spring Mills High School, Berkeley County;
• Kylo, a male, black Labrador, at Lenore PK-8 School, Mingo County;
• Winnie, a female, apricot and white Labradoodle, at Wayne Elementary School, Wayne County; and
• Kasha, a female, yellow Labrador, at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, Pocahontas County.
In February, Bridgeview Elementary School in Kanawha County will receive a male yellow Labrador. In April, Oakvale Elementary School in Mercer County will receive a male apricot and white Labradoodle.
More information about Friends with Paws can be found in “Communities in Schools: Friends with Paws,” a documentary produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
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 antistress 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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