With finals and semester grades on the line, the end of another semester for a typical high school student comes with a large helping of stress. Palo Alto High School administrators launched a new program that brings therapy dogs on campus every Wednesday in the hopes of helping students cope with their stress and improving overall school climate. According to Paly librarian and therapy dog organizer Rachel Kellerman, the dogs are a great way to improve student mental health.
“Animals are not judgemental. They don’t care if you are enduring a boring day [or] didn’t do well on a test,” Kellerman says. “All they care about is their connection with you in the moment, and if you are looking at them while petting their ears, they love you — it’s as simple as that.” Below are three of the popular dogs that come to Paly.
Thane, a loving 7-month-old yellow Labrador Retriever, is a guide-dog-in-training. Thane loves the outdoors and is extremely active, keeping his owner Tracie on her toes. He has been with Tracie, who also raised his father, since he was eight weeks old.
Tracie hopes that Thane will one day become a successful working dog to help someone in need.
Although Tracie does not know Thane well yet, she says that Thane’s father went as far as to stop a possible gang fight when Tracie’s daughter took him to her high school and went between the gangs with the dog. According to Tracie, one of the group members said, “Stand back, he’s wearing his colors. He’s going to help a brother with no vision.”
Though Thane still has a lot to learn, he shows great promise.
Kaia, a calm and content 5-year-old Miniature Goldendoodle from Iowa who loves head rubs and chasing bubbles, is a recently certified Canine Good Citizen therapy dog. Because Kaia is not certified as a higher level therapy dog, she cannot participate in all therapy dog programs but is still able to visit Paly.
To obtain certification from the American Kennel Club, Kaia and her owner Gwen had to complete a rigorous training program, Paly was the first place they came to do therapy together.
According to Gwen, Paly is a good environment for both her and Kaia to learn in.
Gwen knew Kaia would be a successful therapy dog because of her energy and friendliness. For her, just having Kaia around makes for a less stressful environment.
Lois, a friendly mix of Golden Retriever and Labrador, is training to work with people who have disabilities other than blindness. According to her trainer Joanne, Lois is learning how to open doors, pick things up and turn on lights.
After completing her time with Joanne, Lois will go to Santa Rosa for six months, where her future occupation will be decided by a professional.
The possibilities for Lois’ future are endless: she could be a hearing dog, a helping hand for someone in a wheelchair, or even an aid for autistic children. One of Joanne’s previous dogs became a courthouse dog that specializes in helping young victims of crime.
“When kids are interviewed … the dog will be in the room,” Joanne says. “Sometimes they [the kids] are afraid to talk … so they’ll end up talking to the dog.”