Comfort Dogs in NYC Public Schools

Although this press release came out early in the school year, it seems timely with the concerns we all have over school violence after the events of the past month or so. Since the Parkland shooting, my county has had several schools receive threats, and I just received word that my son’s high school was hit with tainted candy today. Our kids are stressed, feeling the chaos all around them. Comfort dogs could go a long way in calming their nerves.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is celebrating the expansion of the Department of Education (DOE) Comfort Dog program, now operating in nearly 40 schools across New York City. The program launched in seven schools last year and brings dogs into schools to work directly with students and staff to improve school climate and contribute to social-emotional learning. Chancellor Fariña visited a new program this morning at Lower Manhattan Community Middle School, where she met the school’s new comfort dog and visited an Algebra For All classroom.

“The Comfort Dog program brings a smile to students and staff on a challenging day, helps to de-escalate issues and can even provide bereavement support,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “We know students need academic and social-emotional supports to succeed in the classroom and beyond, and comfort dogs are helping nearly 40 schools strengthen their culture and build stronger relationships.”

The DOE works closely with each school in the program to adopt a rescue animal that has been evaluated by North Shore Animal League America. Schools can also receive training in the Mutt-i-Gree curriculum, including lesson plans and strategies to engage students and incorporate the dog into the school’s social-emotional supports. Comfort dogs contribute to various aspects of school culture and climate, and are incorporated in a variety of ways including for both at-risk and mandated counseling. The dogs also become an integral part of a school’s crisis intervention protocols and support de-escalation and bereavement counseling. A staff member at each school adopts the dog and the curriculum is provided to schools for free.

“We are so excited to see that the program has grown from seven schools to 30 additional schools in just one year — talk about a good report card,” said Joanne Yohannan, Senior Vice President, North Shore Animal League America. “Our Mutt-i-Grees curriculum is teaching many important lessons, helping raise awareness about the importance of rescue and imparting life lessons in empathy while helping prepare the next generation to be true humanitarians.”

“A comfort dog is a counseling support,” said Jaye Murray, Executive Director of the Office of Counseling Support Programs. “They possess the two most important qualities of an effective social worker or counselor–unconditional acceptance and warmth.”

The Comfort Dog program’s innovative approach to social-emotional learning provides students with life skills critical to their success in the classroom and beyond. Social-emotional supports can be integrated into classroom teaching and guidance counseling to help students develop effective communication and teamwork, conflict-resolution and problem-solving tactics, and relationship building.

“Bruno has already become an essential member of our school community,” said Kelly McGuire, Principal of Lower Manhattan Community Middle School. “Whether he is greeting students in the morning or working on speech therapy, Bruno is a relationship builder, an effective part of our counseling services, and an adorable addition to our school.”

“The popularity of the Department of Education’s Comfort Dog program is testament to its success in building a healthy educational environment where the values of social-emotional learning and mental wellness are instilled in our City’s kids at an early age,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “Thanks to Chancellor Fariña, the North Shore Animal League, and participating schools for their commitment to creating a healthy, compassionate school culture and for their efforts to make this year’s 30 school program expansion possible.”

Hoping this idea spreads, not only in New York, but also across the country!

Until next time,
Good day, and good dog!

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