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Helping Pets

Students may see him in the halls during passing time, laugh about him and his “jumps and kisses” or even hear him barking down the hall during class, but some high schoolers don’t realize the impact this animal has on the many kids he has helped.

Yarrow, a yellow lab around five years old, is a retired service dog and now works as a therapy dog for students at South. He was rescued on Craigslist and is often seen with Kathy Wagner, a teacher assistant, who used to work with Delaney Hughes.

“He was a service dog, he was Delaney’s seizure alert dog, and then when she passed away, we started bringing him in as a therapy dog or a social dog, but more a therapy dog. We’ve had staff that have had family die or it’s been an anniversary of a death. Yarrow comforts them, and he’s there,” said Wagner.

Not just any dog can be a service dog. According to the University of Arizona, there are about 387,000 service dogs in the US. Very intense training is required; Yarrow went all the way to Florida for the seizure alert part of training and then completed the rest of it in Independence.

“Kids weren’t allowed to pet Yarrow because that’s when he was a service dog and he was actually a working dog. His attention was for Delaney and when she had seizures. So if somebody would have taken his attention away from that, that was actually a felony. You could be arrested for doing that. But, now, his job is to be with people and to comfort them,” said Wagner.

While some animals like Yarrow are trained to be experts in helping people, other pets provide more informal comfort from home. Freshman, Leslie Callahan, had a hamster for a few weeks before her parents made her return it because it smelt too bad. She said that she loved being able to see him every time she came home after a long day at school.

“Even though I only had him for a couple weeks, he made a big difference in my life,” said Callahan.

“I think whatever animal brings you comfort should be allowed, I’m all for it. It could be a bird, if that bird sitting on your shoulder or tweeting in your ear brings your anxiety down, go for it. I mean I’m around too many kids with high anxiety and just to see them calm down is wonderful,” said Wagner.  

According to NBC News, many colleges are now allowing pet therapy programs. Some colleges allow pets in the dorms while others just have therapy dogs on campus. Either way, there is an option for relieving stress by being with these animals.

“Being with Yarrow just helps students get that deep breath that you need when you’re upset, and he gives that to them,” said Wagner. “You know, it sounds corny, but the world’s a better place for them.”