On a Friday afternoon this past April,
the Streamwood High School lunch period had some unusual guests, including a Pit Bull mix named Nutz, a German Shepherd named Addison, and a Chihuahua named Brooklyn. Throughout all the lunch periods, a steady stream of delighted students and staff came into the spare classroom to fawn over the canine visitors, all Healing Paws therapy dogs with Anderson Humane.
“When we arrived, the ladies at the front desk told us they’d been eagerly waiting for us all week,” said Barb Kohley, Anderson Humane’s Community Programs Manager. “There was definitely hubbub about us being there.”
The visit started with two students, Melissa and Carolina (pictured here with Nutz and Brooklyn), and a question: How can animals improve the mental well-being of individuals? The girls set about finding an answer to this important question for a college-prep class project.
As they conducted research, they learned that spending time with a dog has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety (familiar feelings for many high school students) and that interaction with a therapy dog reduces biological markers of stress.
Wanting to demonstrate those benefits, they sought local humane societies to help them, and thankfully found Anderson Humane. After more than 100 students and teachers signed a petition to get the Healing Paws dogs’ visit approved, the school district agreed.
The students were thrilled. Barb said she could hear students as they were leaving the classroom already talking about it, “Did you see that dog? He was so cute!” The teachers said it was one of the most popular projects they’d seen.
“It was especially touching when the special ed students visited,” Barb said. “One little girl initially turned with her back to the dog. He sniffed her back and then moved on. She eventually turned around to check him out and once she made contact she was all over him.” Another student in a wheelchair was shy at first around the dogs, then became delighted by their attention.
As if underscoring the need for stress-reducing measures for students, there was a shooting in the school’s neighborhood the day of the Healing Paws visit. The building was secured and on a soft lockdown for a portion of the day. The Anderson Humane staff and volunteers were sobered by how normative this seemed to the students, and were extra grateful to bring the dogs’ joy and comfort to all who were able to spend time with them.
Through the project, Melissa and Carolina said they learned the value of making a plan and finding creative ways to overcome obstacles. And, as they said in their presentation for the project, “Sometimes a big effort is needed for a little moment of joy.” The project earned them an A, as well as a long-term lesson: “No matter what life throws at you, you can always count on a furry friend to help you through it.”