As the school nurse at Buchanan High School, Wendee Winter sees a lot of students who struggle with anxiety — especially during finals twice a year.
After reading an article about Therapy Dogs International, Winter decided to research the idea of bringing therapy dogs to BHS. The results directed her to Therapy Dogs International - Fresno Chapter 220.
Therapy Dogs International is a national volunteer-based organization dedicated to the regulation, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their owners/handlers for providing support at hospitals, hospices, retirement communities, schools, libraries (Tail Waggin’ Tutors) and areas affected by tragedy and natural disaster (Disaster Stress Relief Dogs).
Teams of DSRD have offered support at dozens of disastrous events like the Oklahoma City bombing, the attacks on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
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The local chapter visits Valley Children’s Hospital and Saint Agnes Medical Center (dubbed Heavenly Hounds) on a regular basis, and makes bi-annual trips to University of California, Merced.
In fact, Winter said, more than 20 therapy dogs arrived at UC Merced shortly after the stabbing of two students and two employees on Nov. 4, 2015.
With three days of finals on the horizon, shortly before Christmas, Winter knew therapy dogs were the answer to her concerns.
“It helps to decrease cortisol levels and blood pressure,” Winter said about the use of therapy dogs.
Winter posted a bulletin on Peachjar, hoping to generate conversations between students and their parents about attending a session.
In the end, nearly 80 students had a chance to mingle with therapy dogs from the local chapter. Their owners/handlers also provided encouragement to students by saying, “Good luck on your finals!”
“It was very calming,” Winter said. “It was great to see.”
The instructions given to students were simple: relax.
Seven therapy dogs arrived on the first day of finals, offering nudges and kisses as students made their 15-minute rounds around the room. Not only did the experience prove to be beneficial for their minds and bodies, but also for their souls.
“A few students were emotional,” Winter said.
She recalls a student saying, “I’m just crying because I’m excited.”
There was a mixture of breeds present: a black pug, a white Standard Poodle, a long-haired Pomeranian and two Labrador Retrievers.
“They were very well-behaved dogs,” she said.
Because of positive responses from students, Winter hopes to have the local chapter return for finals in June.
“They were really, really grateful,” she said.
To learn about Therapy Dogs International - Fresno Chapter 220, visit www.facebook.com/TDIChapter220