A paw to hold: relieving stress alongside furry friends


Therapy dog Harper and her handler Courtney Leonard demonstrate some of Harper's tricks to onlookers. Harper and Leonard visited LASA for the first time during Divine Canine's Oct. 9 study break, providing students with a chance to destress. photo by Emma McBride

Catie Graves, Staff Writer

Sitting on the floor of the library, two students play with Belle, one of the furry friends who came to LASA to help students relieve stress. In the midst of PSAT week, when schedules are turned upside down and the library is filled with students cramming before tests, petting a dog provides a peaceful break during a hectic week.

Divine Canines, a program that schedules therapy dog visits brought dogs specially trained in dealing with stressful situations on Oct. 9 to help relieve students’ stress. Counselor and owner of Scout, the LASA therapy dog, Carole McPherson said that providing a lot of of different types of dogs guarantees that students can find a dog they are comfortable with.

“I definitely think there is a chemical thing,” McPherson said. “It kinds of brings them out of that academic world for second, makes them kind of think there’s more to life other than these buildings and these wall and these books.”

Among the dogs in attendance was LASA’s former therapy dog, Bruce Wayne and his owner, former wellness counselor Marissa Rivera. Rivera said that dogs bring students into the present moment and keep them from worrying about tasks they need to complete.

“I think for high school kids, especially LASA kids who have a lot of homework and a lot of things going on, therapy dogs just provide a moment to slow down,” Rivera said.

According to sophomore Jacob Verastegui, petting these dogs puts things in perspective. He finds that being around these dogs during the day helps him to relax.

“I think it helps out with my stress,” Verastegui said. “I don’t know why but rubbing a dog always seems to help it.”

Belle relaxes on the floor and enjoys belly rubs from students during their lunch period. The dogs relaxed with students and allowed them to play with and pet them. photo by Emma McBride

Junior Miranda Simon also said that playing with dogs relieves anxiety. She thinks that providing access to therapy dogs is something that the school should continue to do.

“I think they help everyone to relax and have a stress free zone,” Simon said. “It’s so important that at a stressful school like LASA the administration gives us opportunities to relax and take a break during the day. I really hope we have more dog visits in the future.”

Courtney Leonard, Harper’s handler, said that Harper seemed to enjoy her first visit with the students. Leonard also wishes she had something like this when she was in school.

“I think it would have been really helpful and also good,” Leonard said. “It’s a really good social opportunity for students too. [Harper] loved it. For her, she really likes high school, college age crowds, she likes when people are enthusiastic about being around her.”