by Phil Ambroziak

Who let the dogs… in?

Apparently it was the staff at Carpenter High School in Meadow Lake who, during last week’s first semester final exams, welcomed puppies from the Meadow Lake and District Humane Society to serve as therapy dogs for students feeling the stress and anxiety often associated with important test days.

“A lot of kids suffer from what we call test stress,” explained CHS teacher Dawn Benoit. “That’s why we came up with the idea of having some pets kicking around the school during exam week. This way, the students could pet them or play with them prior to writing their exams and, through that interaction, it helps alleviate some of the uncertainty associated with the test itself. I’ve already been approached by a few kids who said it really helped them. It changed their mood by allowing them to go into their exams more relaxed.”

One youth who feels he benefited from the puppies’ presence at the school last week is Grade 12 student Zane Klics.

“I arrived really nervous for a particular Grade 12 math exam and, at first, felt I wasn’t ready for it,” Klics said. “But, I took some time to play with the puppies and, knowing I would be able to play with them again afterward, really helped me to push through the exam. I hope this is something Carpenter continues to do because therapy dogs have really proven effective in other places, especially at universities where the exams are much harder and have more riding on them.”

Another teen happy to interact with the dogs during exam week was Grade 12 student Cheyenne Willment.

“It’s the first time ever the school is doing something like this,” she said. “It’s cool. I love dogs, animals in general. I’m very appreciative of this and it definitely helps because it keeps my mind on something else before I head into the gym for my exam.”

According to reports, the benefits of having therapy dogs in the classroom include reduced blood pressure, physical stimulation and assistance with pain management. Also, visiting therapy dog promotes greater self-esteem and focused interaction with other students and teachers. And, it has been proven therapy dogs stimulate memory and problem-solving skills.

“This sort of thing is happening in a lot of different places,” Benoit said. “People are seeing the benefit of it and how it brings students happiness and hopefulness.”

The puppies at CHS last week are from the local shelter, but are staying with a foster family because, for health reasons, puppies should not be around other, full-grown dogs. One of the pups was adopted last week and Benoit is optimistic the others will also find good homes.

“It’s a great way to help the local humane society (by finding homes for the dogs) and also assist our students,” she said. “We’re always looking for new ways to meet our students’ needs and I hope to see the use of therapy dogs continue at CHS. We’re not an artificial environment, so I would like to see that line crossed more often and see more animals at the school.”