As every new school year begins, the campus welcomes new students and faculty. But this year, man’s best friend has a newfound presence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as therapy dogs and service dogs can both be found on campus.
Each day during both lunch periods, two to four therapy dogs are available in the courtyard for MSD students to interact with and pet. The dogs are provided by various organizations on a volunteer basis and scheduled by the Broward County Public Schools Department of Diversity, Prevention and Intervention.
In the school’s Media Center, students can also interact with and pet River, a 4-month-old Bernedoodle. Bernedoodles blend the loyalty of the Bernese mountain dog with the cleverness of a poodle.
River, a therapy dog in training, belongs to Media Specialist Diana Haneski. River was donated from Utah Bernedoodles, a breeder in Idaho, so that MSD students could have a permanent therapy dog on campus.
“When I see people whose days are so greatly brightened just by the sight of River, that’s when I know it is all worth keeping her here for students and teachers to enjoy every day,” Haneski said.
Therapy dogs are intended to provide comfort and affection to people in various settings. These animals have intensive obedience training, and their presence has been proven to lower stress levels.
“The dogs around campus have made me feel more comfortable and excited to be at school,” junior Leah Goldberg said. “I wake up earlier just to get to school and see my furry friends.”
In contrast to therapy dogs, service dogs are trained to help a specific person with a disability and/or other specific needs. For example, they might aid individuals who suffer from visual impairment, deafness or seizures. Most service dogs wear an identifying vest or signage to alert others that they are trained working animals and should not be pet or played with.
Three MSD students have approved service dogs that accompany them around campus. Only students who have completed the approval process with Broward County Public Schools may bring their service dog to school.
Spree, a German Shepherd, accompanies junior Haylee Shepard to school every day. Spree completed both Good Citizen training and Service Training before she was provided to Shepard by Guardian Angel Medical Service Dogs. This organization trains puppies to become working service dogs for people in need.
“Having Spree with me helps to reduce my anxiety levels,” Shepard said. “She always behaves in class which helps me not be distracted and stay on task.”
Senior Madeleine Wilford brings her 1-year-old German shepherd and Belgian malenwall mix, Annya. Wilford gives all of her commands to Annya in German so that no one other than Wilford can command her.
“Having Annya at school with me makes being here so much easier every day, and she can be very therapeutic,” Wilford said.
The dogs at MSD provide a helping paw to those in need, offering special comfort to make their day a bit brighter.
This story was originally published in the October 2018 Eagle Eye print edition.