Therapy dogs are coming to more West Virginia schools. The initiative is an expansion of the West Virginia Communities in Schools program.
Gov. Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice announced “Friends with Paws” on Friday.
At least ten therapy dogs will be placed in schools by the end of the year, according to the governor’s office. The press conference originally reported five dogs by the end of the year.
Gov. Justice said the dogs will help children who have been dealing with the emotional challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been two years of this pandemic,” he said. “It has been really, really tough. It’s taken a mental toll on our kids.”
First Lady Justice said she has been developing the new project for more than a year. She said the dogs come from trainers with almost 30 years of experience and will know how to respond to a child who may be grieving or need an emotional boost.
“Dogs never say anything bad about you,” she said. “They always wag their tail, pant and bark, and they’re so happy to see you. They never give a negative vibe to a child.”
The first four schools to get their therapy dogs over the next few months will be Welch Elementary School in McDowell County, Buckhannon Academy in Upshur County, Lewis County High School in Lewis County and Greenbank Elementary Middle School in Pocahontas County.
The first four dogs are named Coal, Foster, Jet and Jasper. Three are Labrador Retrievers and one is a Labradoodle.
Some schools in West Virginia already have therapy dogs, such as Mary C. Snow Elementary in Charleston. “Friends with Paws” is expected to get more of these dogs in more schools.
Communities in Schools is a statewide program serving 171 schools in 31 counties. West Virginia Public Broadcasting produced a short documentary on the program in fall 2021.
***Editor’s Note: The original version of this story said the name of the new program is “Friends for Paws.” This was incorrect. The correct name for the program is “Friends with Paws.”