Pets with a Purpose

Local therapy dogs ease anxieties at school and camp, offering children unconditional love

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CHEPACHET — As trained therapy dogs, Abbey and Tessa have helped put countless students at ease, allowing them to de-stress in their classrooms and at camp. Almost effortlessly, the four-legged friends continue to provide an unspoken comfort to many, especially ahead of stressful tests.
Michelle Losardo, director of Mother of Hope Camp and Patricia Kane, associate director of Youth Ministry and director of the Rejoice in Hope Youth Center for the Diocese of Providence, have both seen the positive affect pet therapy has on young people. Through their own individual programs, each has seen the significant difference a dog’s presence can make for children.
Since 2017, Pat Kane, has been bringing her Golden Retriever Abbey to local schools. On her visits, Kane has taught students basic training and focusing techniques they can do with Abbey. They play fetch with her and “hide-and-seek” for treats. She also discusses the responsibilities of caring for a pet and the value of interacting with one.
“They are very responsive and love to engage with her,” said Kane. “They love the interaction with her, whether it is playing, training or just sitting with her and petting her. I have seen students who were anxious and high-strung become calmer. I have witnessed a student who is alienated from the group be drawn in though their interaction with Abbey. Every visit to a school gives me the opportunity to see the value and impact that the experience brings.”
Windwalker Professional Pet Assisted Therapy explains that therapy dogs are good-tempered family pets. After successfully completing a program with their human guardian, they can then go on to serve many people in society in many different walks of life.
“They bring encouragement, motivation, physical and emotional healing, education, relaxation, joy and companionship and an endless list of benefits that can be realized for the human client,” their mission states.
A visit from the pups has shown to be beneficial to kids with anxiety issues. A student at The Prout School shared that after spending time with Abbey, she instantly felt at ease.
“As a student with anxiety that increases greatly around midterms and finals, I felt that my experience with Abbey the dog was amazing. I was feeling very overwhelmed and was going to have an anxiety attack. However this went away when I visited Abbey. I physically felt better and felt more grounded. Watching her, petting her and playing with her sincerely helped me.”
For many years Tessa, a chocolate lab, has brought her smile to schools, parishes and libraries. Now she is the Mother of Hope Camp therapy dog. Losardo shared that school field trips to the camp offer elementary school-aged children authentic and multisensory experiences through numerous activities including guided forest walks, woodland scavenger hunts, and creative hands-on outreach and service-based projects, as well as a very special therapy dog workshop entitled “Caring for God’s Creatures.”
“Sometimes we do have children with some anxiety issues,” she explained. “We teach them techniques on how to relieve stress by spending time with the dog. It helps some of our campers, or those who come to some of our programming. It helps to soften them in the presence of an animal, helping them to be more accepting of their experience which makes it more enjoyable for them. They break down their barriers and become more vulnerable.”
Before a visit to local schools and camp, Losardo explained that all therapy animals always have up-to-date credentialing badges, insurance, rabies and veterinary health statements.
Marie Habershaw, school nurse at Immaculate Conception Catholic Regional School shared that the school was honored to be able to work with Tessa and Abbey.
“We saw remarkable things happen when a few of our students worked with these special animals,” said Habershaw. “It was incredibly moving to watch children play hide-and-seek with Abbey and to hear the laughter and joy they exhibited. A dog gives a child unconditional love and brings any anxiety down. Both Abbey and Tessa chose who they wanted to work with and the rest of us got to watch this bond forge.”
First graders from St. Rocco School, Johnston also learned about the work of pet-assisted therapy teams during a field trip to Mother of Hope Camp.
First grade teacher Lori Sweeney shared that the little ones were still talking about Tessa when they got back to school
“I feel the greatest reward for students interacting with animals in this way is that the children will always have this special memory of their first grade field trip,” said Sweeney. “It was a unique experience for them. Also, it is a reminder to them about how important and wonderful animals are in our lives as pets and helpers and that we need to respect and take care of them. We rely on these types of helper dogs to meet our needs as much as they rely on us to meet theirs.”

Learn more about the many programs and events taking place at both Mother of Hope Camp and the Rejoice in Hope Youth Center by visiting: motherofhopecamp.com; catholicyouthri.com/rejoice-in-hope-youth-center.