A Student’s Best Friend

New emotional support canines are reducing stress and anxiety for students.

Photo+by+Makenna+Smock

Photo by Makenna Smock

Caty Franklin

Room 100 is a noisy, chaotic, chorus of commotion and movement. Bentley, a yellow lab mix, ambles over to a student who is trembling. He sits patiently at her side, and then, there is peace.

After trying two Weimer Reimer dogs first semester who couldn’t settle into the school setting, two new labs, Bentley and Bear, are trotting into the lives of LHS students this semester.

After the missteps in the first semester, administrators did not give up on their commitment to bring emotional support dogs to the building. Principal April Adams worked with Warrior’s Best Friend to find two new dogs that would be a better fit.

Bentley now works in the special education Essential Skills class and Autism program and Bear is assigned to the Therapeutic Learning Classroom and the Counseling and Social Work offices.

Special education teacher Dannie Ravenscraft helped choose the new dogs. He is now Bentley’s handler, and spent many hours training to help integrate the dogs into school life. He is passionate about how the support canines can help assist students with special needs.

“Warriors Best Friend brought in a few dogs. They had three at the time,” he said. “Two of them, Bear and Bentley, loved all people. The trainer was taking them to stores and they were wanting to approach other people. We quickly realized Bear and Bentley were going to be a good fit.”

Adams added that she is especially thankful for Joe Jeffers and his daughter Bella, who prepared the dogs at Warrior’s Best Friend for four months before the dogs started school in January. She truly believes the dogs will make students’ lives better.

“Petting a dog produces an automatic relaxation response and even stabilizes blood pressure,” Adams said. “In a school setting, animal assistance programs improve mental health, reduce anxiety, improve academic performance, increase attendance rates and create a calm environment where students feel safe, accepted and loved.”

Ravenscraft also mentioned a new and unexpected idea for the dogs.

“Some of my students are interested in getting jobs that involve dogs, so working on things like taking care of the dog, walking the dog, and building a relationship will be beneficial.”

Bear and Bentley love all people… We quickly realized Bear and Bentley were going to be a good fit for our school.”

— Special Education Teacher and Bear’s Handler Dannie Ravenscraft

Freshman Trevor Ross has been excited for the new dogs, and has been connecting with Bear in the counseling office.

“The dogs are helping people feel more comfortable and safe around our school,” Ross said. “They make people happy.”

Social worker Kris Boyle is Bear’s new handler. Bear is a black lab.

“Bear is in the counseling office, so he is available to all students,” Boyle said. “We go out sometimes during passing periods so kids can see him and we walk the halls when we have time.”

Students working on math problems may not be completely engaged, but with Bear or Bentley around, these students are super motivated to get their work done if it means more time with the dogs. In fact, on this day, Bentley moved from student to student, making his way slowly around the classroom. One girl bent down to coo at him, stroking him just behind the ears. A boy laughed as Bentley’s wagging tail bumped up against him. Another girl rested a hand on the curve of his back, smiling. There was an undeniable shift in the atmosphere of the classroom.

Bentley and Bear are leaving their paw prints on the hearts and minds of LHS students.