Captivating Canines: How therapy dogs improve my mental health


Keyla Blanco (11) holds therapy dog Bailey during the Ann Richards Real Talk intersession.

The pressure that comes with being a high school student is more than one can explain. The four years of constant homework, tests, projects, and midterms start to pile up and at times feels like it will never end. As I begin the last semester of my junior year and start to plan my future, I can’t help but feel suffocated at times by all the work and responsibilities that come with growing up. One thing that has helped me through the years is the access I’ve had to cute, lovable canines. Over the past year, Ann Richards has had a number of therapy dogs on campus for students. The company of small furry creatures is one that helps many, including I, brighten their day.

Last school year we had a Australian Shepherd named Cameron around school about 3 times a week. While working on a semester long project, and often times crying, I found myself stressed and unable to move forward. Luckily, whenever I felt overwhelmed I could walk down the hall towards the CIS office and spend a few minutes petting Cameron. According to The National Geographic, the simple act of petting a dog can reduce stress hormones, regulate your breathing and even lower blood pressure. When the pressure of school, extra curriculars and personal conflicts begin to mountain on a student’s shoulders, the easy access to cuddly animals does wonders for the student’s mental health.

Towards the end of 2016, the good ol’ high school finals rolled around and everyone was moving from study group to study group hoping to cram enough information for a 2 hour long test. The Friday before finals, student stress levels grew higher than Mount. Everest, so the CIS department gave us an hour long opportunity to visit a number of therapy dogs in the library. Students rushed to see the lovable dogs, and the amount of “my depression is cured”, and “finals don’t seem that bad after all” I heard in that hour were more than I could count. Spending time with the therapy dogs improved my attitude for the next week. I concentrated on studying and focused on all my tests. In fact, my junior year midterms are my highest scores in my high school career. I can’t say for sure that it was solely because of the therapy dogs, or that I did my best on all my tests, but I can say that they improved the way I approached studying and taking the tests.

Coming back from winter break, my school had an amazing three-day long event called Intersession. Intersession was an event in which teachers chose to lead workshops about anything and everything you don’t typically do in school. Students could sign up to learn about a subject of their choice for a whole three days. We had classes ranging from Harry Potter, to zombie apocalypse training, and even bike riding. I decided to take a class called Real Talk, based off of the after school club. We learned about many historical and current events as well as social issues we normally aren’t taught in class. I found myself coming out of school every day educated about a brand new topic, it was quite refreshing. Towards the end of the week I began to feel tired and drained, and I was sure I would be unable to focus in class. Lucky for me, down the hall was the dog training Intersession. They were setting up the room before school started and I asked if I could pet one of the dogs a student had brought from home. I petted and played with Bear (the dog)  for a little less than 10 minutes, but I felt energized enough for a 12 hour day. Although I thought I was energized, it didn’t actually last me that long. After lunch I began to feel drained yet again and what was making me more frustrated was the fact that I needed to stay even longer after school for dance practice. I decided to excuse myself from the class and head into the hall. A fellow student had brought in her therapy dog from home, and she asked if I would like to spend time with Bailey. I spent the next half hour petting Bailey, playing fetch and eventually cuddling up together before the school day ended. My day was made better as soon as I got to be around a dog.

The importance of having therapy dogs around a school campus for access to students is seen through the improvements in students’ attitudes and general performance. No matter how much weighs me down I always feel better when there is a dog by my side. Getting to experience first hand how a therapy dog can improve mental health and academic performance has made me want to express it in writing for everyone else to read and understand. Having therapy dogs on school campuses will improve the students’ mental health and academic performances.