Therapy Dog at Lower School

The therapeutic qualities of a pet are widely known, but recently, schools are inviting therapy dogs onto their campuses because they are shown to lower stress and raise concentration levels among students. With this role in mind, Junellen Tiska, Lower School Director of Curriculum and Development, adopted Honey, a beautiful mutt, less than a year ago from the Animal Rescue Fund (ARF) of the Hamptons. Honey has risen to the challenge, serving as a calming force on campus for students and teachers alike.

“Some of my students calm right down when they interact with her. Yesterday we had an argument between two girls, and Honey came in and crawled into their laps, and they were able to relax and talk it out,” said Junellen. In addition, Honey helps struggling readers who are self-conscious about reading out loud. They come and read out loud to Honey. “There is also a lot of information out there about how therapy dogs help students who are on the [autism] spectrum,” Junellen said.

Every week, Junellen visits different classrooms to teach reading comprehension, and Honey is always by her side. Last week, the two visited the third grade. The students gathered on the floor and Honey sat with them (sometimes even on them) as Junellen read May I Pet Your Dog? a  guideline for children on how to approach dogs. For example, the students learned to ask for the owner's permission to pet a dog, allow the animal to first sniff an approaching hand, and approach from the side. Afterward, the students broke into pairs and read books about rescue dogs together. When they finished, they regrouped and summarized the stories for their classmates. This particular visit was designed to prepare the students to receive a campus visit from an ARF adoption van carrying dogs and cats on May 8.

After more extensive training, Junellen will try to get Honey registered with Therapy Dogs International. In the meantime, Honey has already become the most popular “kid” at school.