Berkeley County Welcomes Therapy Dog Jet

If you visit Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County, you may see a fluffy four-legged staff member roaming the hallways. Jet is a one-and-a-half-year-old yellow Labrador that works as an emotional support dog every school day, assisting teachers and staff by offering his support in return for belly rubs and treats.

Member Tonya Fleming and Jet

Jet was assigned to Spring Mills High School as a part of First Lady Justice’s Friends with Paws program. Jet was trained by Ultimate Canine, a dog training academy in Indiana, as a puppy, and is one of nine service dogs work­ing with Communities in Schools in WV.

Tracy Long, the SMHS Communities in Schools site coordinator, is one of Jet’s handlers and was researching emotional support dogs when she came across the First Lady’s program and made an inquiry. After the applica­tion and interview in the summer of 2022, Spring Mills High School was selected as one of the lucky schools to receive a dog.

On September 21st, the First Lady and Jet came to SMHS for a “pup rally” where Jet was introduced to his four handlers and the school, and he has been running in the halls and visiting classrooms every school day since.

BCEA President Jana Woofter and Jet

“He is a joy,” said Ms. Long, “He is part of the school, the staff, and the student body.” Any teacher can request a visit from Jet, and he frequently stops by special education classrooms, supporting students who are in crisis or having medical emergencies, and roaming the hallways with his handler. BCEA President Jana Woofter had Jet visit her classroom when students were taking an AP practice chemis­try test to help relieve their test anxiety.

Jet ready to play with Member Jessica Beihl

Ms. Long noted that there is evidence that dogs help calm people, reduce blood pressure and stress. “Jet provides a positive school culture for all of the students, and playing fetch with Jet puts a smile on the teachers’ faces as well.” Ms. Long said that Jet opens doors for her to speak with students who would not normally come to her to talk. In group settings, Jet also provides a connection for students of different backgrounds that makes students more com­fortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Jet seems very happy to be a Cardinal and working at Spring Mills High School. He is eager to play fetch with the teachers and rolls over in the hallways as students pass by to request belly rubs. Jet certainly has had a posi­tive impact on the staff and students at SMHS.

You can check out Jet on Instagram at @smhsjet along with his almost 800 followers. If you are interested in learning more about the First Lady’s program, go to: www.ciswv.org/stories/Pages/FriendsWithPaws.aspx.

Cabell County’s New Dog Ollie

Ollie posing in his comfy bed

Students at Milton Elementary are curious about seeing a dog at school. Ollie, a nine-month-old Labradoodle, has been training hard to provide therapy services for students. Although he has only been at the school for a short while, staff have already envisioned his services having long-term effects. Sarah Harless, a long-time WVEA member and special education teacher said, “having Ol­lie integrate into our building will have a very positive outcome.” Ollie will be available for individual student therapy, as well as classroom requests.

Harless spoke on the challenges students face with ACES, adverse childhood experiences. “Some children have a difficult time with life in general… some come from rough home lives…the support Ollie will provide is invaluable.” With over 30 years of teaching experience, Harless is excited about this innovative therapy for her school in Cabell County and for her students with intellectual disabilities and autism. In the evenings, when Ollie finishes his workdays, he goes home with the principal.

River Works Miracles in Wyoming County

Member Brittany Besl welcoming River to her school

Brittany Besl is a physical education teacher at Pineville Elemen­tary School in Wyoming County. Besl has been teaching for 12 years. She is one of the five staff handlers assigned to Pineville Elementary’s new canine support companion, River, who is a one-year-old yellow Labrador.

River has been assisting students at the school for a couple months now and is seen as part of the family there. Besl says that River has been a positive influence on the students at the school. River helps calm students who are upset or have emotional is­sues. “Absolutely, this dog helps the students. She is there when students are upset and can even sense when a student is having an emotional issue and will go right to the student to help. River goes to the fire,” Besl said. River “works miracles” with special needs students at the school and spends some time with them every day. She is also an attendance incentive as students with perfect attendance get to have a photo with River, which has proved to be a popular program.

River was welcomed to the school by the new Principal Melanie Keefer. River likes to play fetch with students and students re­ward River with a treat. River has been a great asset to the school and is already making a difference for the students there.