News, School News

High school adds fluffy friend to staff

Skye, therapy dog buddy, arrives at Berkeley Springs High School

by Kate Evans

A female Brown Labradoodle called Skye is a new four-legged friend for students at Berkeley Springs High School.  Skye was welcomed at a pup rally assembly on Tuesday, October 31 along with representatives of West Virginia’s First Lady Cathy Justice.  After the pup rally, high school students and staff got to meet and interact with Skye.

The First Lady’s “Friends With Paws” Initiative will have placed 19 therapy dogs in schools across West Virginia since April 2022 with the new addition of Skye and six other therapy dogs.

Berkeley Springs High School’s new therapy dog, Skye, was welcomed to the school on Tuesday, October 31 in a ceremony with representatives of West Virginia’s First Lady Cathy Justice. Pictured are local officials Morgan County Commissioners Bill Clark and Joel Tuttle, Morgan County Superintendent Kristen Tuttle, Berkeley Springs High School Principal Mitch Nida, County Commissioner Sean Forney and Morgan County Board of Education member Justin Litten.

The “Friends With Paws” program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, West Virginia Communities in Schools (CIS) Non-profit and the West Virginia Department of Education.

Therapy dogs are placed in Communities in Schools counties where students are affected by poverty, substance use and other at-risk situations and have the greatest need for the comfort of a support animal.

Trained for comfort

Therapy dogs are highly trained and certified to provide comfort, companionship and support to individuals of diverse backgrounds in stressful environments.  The dogs help people feel at ease, relieve anxiety, decrease loneliness and brighten their moods.

Every “Friends With Paws” therapy dog is extensively trained at Ultimate Canine in Westfield, Indiana, one of the top therapy dogs organizations in the United States, according to the Paws With Friends website.  Owner Julia Case and staff evaluate and identify natural in-born traits of dogs that could become therapy dogs.

The dogs are trained to provide therapy to people of diverse backgrounds, ignore distractions and manage crowds and have many hours of traveling to places with large crowds to hone their skills.

Furry friendship & support

A therapy dog’s presence in the classroom instills a positive atmosphere and diminishes stress.  The dog can also be a listening audience for kids that have difficulty reading aloud in class.  As they practice reading to their new furry friend, students gain confidence in reading aloud.

“These therapy dogs will bring friendship, love and support to their schools. I look forward to welcoming each one and seeing the amazing work that they do for our students,” First Lady Cathy Justice said in a press release about the seven new therapy dogs, including Skye.

Governor Jim Justice said in the press release that he’s very in tune with what a dog can bring to all of us.

“I am so excited to see how these dogs will positively impact students around our state. We are going to continue helping our students and communities by providing them with the resources they need to succeed,” the Governor said.

Skye will have four handlers at the high school: Principal Mitch Nida, former Communities in Schools liaison Matt Griffith, high school counselor Candice Pennington and Assistant Principal Brian Raciborski.  Skye will live permanently with Nida and Pennington.