Furry friends help students smile

Therapy animals visit classes to improve wellness, bring joy


Carter Brannon

Senior Carlyn Schwingbeck, Ed Harrow of Pets and People, and special education teacher Beth Mintz play with Tucker the therapy dog. Mintz and Scwingbeck have worked with the Pets and People organization to bring therapy dogs into Algonquin to provide relief for students.

Carter Brannon, Staff Writer

Algonquin has been welcoming some furry guests, but these dogs are not here to find drugs. Instead, they’re to make students happy and bring something different to the often monotonous school day.

Senior Carlyn Schwingbeck and adjustment counselor Beth Mintz have been working with Pets and People, an organization that certifies therapy animals and has provided therapy animal visits to Algonquin since last year.

“I kind of didn’t have motivation to go to school for a while, and Ms. Mintz was trying to help encourage me to come to school,” Schwingbeck said. “One of the things I said was a reason why I would stay home is that I could stay with my dog, and so then we worked to try to get a dog to come into school.”

Schwingbeck finds that students are typically excited by the therapy animals.

“[The students] are usually like ‘Oh my goodness, is that a dog?’ and then they come up and they ask if they can pet it, and then they pet it, and they’re like ‘Oh my goodness, I’m so glad it’s here,’” Schwingbeck said.

The dogs and a cat have come in to multiple classes on different days.  Visits have included dogs and cats in math, wellness and psychology classes, as well as in the alternative lunch room and STEP periods.  

Sometimes therapy animals can have an educational connection courses related to mental health and well-being, but at other times it’s just fun, according to Schwingbeck.

“I have [had them come in to] my Psychology class, and I had a wellness class that [they came to] last semester,” Schwingbeck said. “[The animals] kind of relate to that, but I’m also trying to plan to have it in my math class, which it doesn’t really have a direct connection [to], but people seem to like dogs.”

Schwingbeck helped organise a visit to her math class.  Pets and People volunteer Ed Harrow and his dog Tucker visited math teacher Ellen Marieni’s period seven Pre-Calculus class on March 28.

“I was walking to math class and someone was like ‘There’s a dog!’ so I ran to math class, and there’s this big fluffy cute super cute dog, and he was so friendly,” senior Tessa McAndrews said. “He just came up to us and started letting us pet him, sniffing us, and he looked like he had a smile. He was so cute.”

McAndrews said she enjoyed seeing the dog and hearing Harrow’s presentation.   

“I enjoyed being able to pet a dog rather than doing math,” McAndrews said.  “I’ve heard a few times of other people having therapy dogs come in to school and I never got to see them, so I was upset. I’m happy now that I got to see them.”

Tucker is a therapy dog. Harrow and Tucker go to schools, facilities for people with disabilities and funeral visiting hours. According to Harrow, therapy animals have to be social, calm and well-trained.

“[Tucker] will feed off the energy of the people he’s with, so when I work a lot with younger kids and if they get excited, then he gets excited,” Harrow said. “You’re excited, he’s excited. You’re calm, he’s calm.”

Harrow and Tucker are associated with Pets and People, who have rules and organization for these visits.

“[Pets and People is] just a group of people with dogs or cats that have passed the test, which is basically a behavior test they have to see if the dog is well trained, knows basic commands, listens to them [and] is not overly excited with other dogs,” Harrow said.

There have been several previous visits, including one with a holiday theme.

“A highlight of my year last year was when the 18 pound cat named Daniel and the beagle named Greta came i n dressed in their halloween costumes [but] I don’t think it [was]  the highlight of [the animals’] year,” Mintz said.

The visits to Algonquin have only been occasional.  The intention was to have a visit every other week, but that level of consistency has not happened according to Schwingbeck.  Mintz is working on having the pets come in more often next year.

“Some schools have [therapy pets] come every day or many days a week, and they come during lunch and kids can drop in and just pet them,” Mintz said.  “Ultimately that’s what I’d like to do if we could figure it out.”

Mintz believes the pet visits are good for many students.

“The thing that’s nice about pet therapy…is that it gives students something common,” Mintz said.  “They may not have something in common with each other, but then [the pet visit] gives them something to bring them together and connect them with each other.”

“When we’re walking down the hall, people are so happy,”  Mintz said. “Teachers and students come out of the classroom…. They just light up.”

Mintz credits Schwingbeck for the success of the visits.

“I’m not animal person really myself,” Mintz said.  “I don’t have animals and I really never would’ve thought of it it weren’t for Carlyn wanting animals and… helping me facilitate it.  She’s graduating but we’re hoping there’s another student who’s willing to take on the footwork.”

Schwingbeck says she wants to bring light to people’s days by letting them see the dogs.

“It’s fun, and it’s different, and I feel that school can be monotonous, so if I can have some difference, why not?” Schwingbeck said.

Another visit of therapy dogs is being planned for June 11 during the 2nd period FLB, according to Schwingbeck.