Counseling Staff

Canines Comfort Students, Staff In Tough Times
Posted on 09/26/2019
Comfort dogs Ginny and Luna with students

Perkins High School students and staff probably have noticed: There are a couple of new “counselors” in the building this school year.

Meet Luna and Ginny, comfort dogs that have been added to help students – and staff – through challenging times. 

Briar Middle School also has a pair of comfort dogs – Roxie and Brandy, who belong to counselor David Zimmerman. The dogs are available to students across the district’s four buildings.

With the PHS school year just underway, the canines were already called into action last week when Perkins High students learned of the death of junior Spencer Rumer. As PHS Principal Jeff Harbal shared the news of Spencer’s death with classmates in the high school auditorium, Roxie and Brandy meandered about the room and softened the disheartening news. 

That was the intended effect, explained PHS counselor Colleen Galloway. Having the dogs present, “calmed the atmosphere,” she said. 

Roxie and Brandy, as well as a Luna and Ginny, were available in the high school Pirate Learning Center to students and staff during the days following Spencer’s death. Dozens of students and a few teachers utilized their services.

“Instead of being focused on their grief, the students were interacting with the dogs,” Ms. Galloway said. In a situation such as a student's death or other emotionally difficult time, the school counseling staff goes to students and encourages them to open up about their feelings. 

“With the dogs, the kids really open up,” Ms. Galloway said. 

Comfort dogs in schools have proven to calm youth during crises, says Perkins School District psychologist Hillary Turner. The dogs will be in the buildings to help students every day with anxiety and stress relief – and just make everyone happier.

There are rules for students, though. 

  • The dogs love treats, but not too many, thus students are not to feed the dogs.

  • They like attention, but do not pick them up. 

  • They get tired, so if they’re in their kennel, let them be.

  • They know you love ‘em, but don’t spend too much time with them – if you’re late for class, that’s on you!

Luna and Ginny, who belong to Perkins High paraprofessional Tammie Brenton, are on their way to becoming certified as therapy dogs. Mr. Zimmerman’s Roxie and Brandy also are working toward certification as therapy dogs. The dogs must have so many hours and meet certain requirements to be officially designated “therapy dogs.”

The addition of Luna and Ginny, a pair of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, resulted from a government class project last May by students Karlie Kinn and Lexi Kim. As part of their project, they researched the value of comfort dogs, how they could be brought in, and what was needed to get them. 

Both Karlie and Lexi, now seniors, had first-hand experience with comfort dogs when another student, Stone Ambos, passed away in May 2018. When Stone died, comfort dogs were brought into the school for the students, and Karlie and Lexi agree that having the dogs proved to be very helpful during a sad time.

“We felt it was an important issue,” says Lexi. “A lot of students deal with a lot of stress.”

“They make everyone happy and brightens our spirits,” added Karlie.

Indeed, they do. Walk into the counselors' office and take a seat on the couch. You’ll have a loving puppy in your lap in no time.