BA schools see ‘paws-itive’ outcomes from therapy dog program

Published: 03/03/2020, 8:12 AM
Edited: 03/03/2020, 8:19 AM
(OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.) Dogs play a special role in the lives of high school students in Broken Arrow. Every other week, students get a visit from Tiger Tails, Broken Arrow High School’s therapy dog program. “Therapy dogs are here to make us feel good, help us to be less stressed, have a peaceful moment,” said Karen Holman, Tiger Tails founder and Broken Arrow High School teacher. “They are great at helping us practice relationship skills. We’ve taken them into special ed classes, AP classes, you name it. We take our dogs there.” “I’ve been a teacher at Broken Arrow for 16 years now, and there are lots of students in the classroom who deal with anxiety issues, just day-to-day trying to get through life as a teenager,” said Shelia Brewster, Broken Arrow High School teacher. “Having a dog that they love up on can decrease their anxiety, and it’s a calming factor for all of us.” Research shows that therapy dogs can have a wide range of benefits including gains in confidence for students, decreased learning anxiety, improved motivation for students and teachers, enhanced relationships with peers and teachers, and an increase in school attendance. “As a mother of two teenagers, I know the stress and anxiety our students face today,” said Broken Arrow Superintendent Dr. Janet Dunlop. “It’s important for us to create a classroom environment that serves as a safe place for our students to learn and grow academically and emotionally. Programs like Tiger Tails help us create these environments.” The Tiger Tails program has been in place for almost eight years. In the beginning, Holman worked in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice programs. But after seeing the effectiveness of the program in schools, she decided to shift focus. Most students have easily bonded with the dogs from Tiger Tails, helping them feel more connected and giving them a safe space to share their emotions. “The dogs are a conduit to communication, and a lot of times the students will open up and talk to use about what is on their mind when there is a dog present,” said Shirley Johnson, Tiger Tails volunteer. “We can sometimes get to the bottom of issues or concerns that they may have.” “When you see the dogs come in and the excitement, it just offsets everything you’re feeling because it’s such a happy moment,” said J.J. MacDonald, Broken Arrow junior. The Tiger Tails program visits other schools within the Broken Arrow district when asked. Holman is hoping to get more licensed dogs and handlers to help with requests for visits.


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