Had a Ruff Day? Pet a Dog at RHS.


BLPT member Katherine Mustello has researched local agencies providing therapy dog services .

Olivia Selby, Journalist

Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a study hall on a Monday morning. You’re a bundle of nerves as you have a huge test next period that accounts for 25% of your grade. You’re so nervous, in fact, that you can’t even focus on studying anymore. You’re sweating, tense, and your heart is pounding so hard it feels like everyone in the room around you must be able to hear it. Your mind is a scrambled swirling mess of anxiety and you feel like you need to scream or cry or both. 

So, you ask your study hall proctor if you can have a pass to leave. She says yes and you hurry down the hall. When you reach the end, you open a door and breathe a sigh of relief at the sight before you. 

The room seems to be bathed in a heavenly glow of light- before you sit two dogs smiling, panting…happy as can be. You go over to greet them. You run your hand through their soft fur and look at their sweet faces with bright shiny eyes and soft wet noses. You feel your heart rate start to slow and your thoughts clear. You no longer feel the looming presence of your imminent test- just the breeze of their soft  tails batting against you. 

This hypothetical situation could soon be a reality for students at RHS!

The idea of bringing in therapy dogs during especially stressful times of the year, such as exam season, is hopefully going to be brought to fruition by the Building Level Planning Team (BLPT) in the near future.

I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the preliminary meetings regarding this topic, and it seems there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to this possibility, and it’s simply the logistics that are left to be hammered out. 

While there are some things to be taken into consideration (allergies, animal fears) the pros to having some furry companions in the building are compelling.

There is a plethora of research that backs up the claim that therapy animals are beneficial not only to one’s physical health but mental health as well. 

Physically, according to UCLA Health, studies indicate that companion animals can lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and slow breathing in people that are anxious. It has  even been found that the simple act of petting an animal is linked to the release of serotonin and oxytocin- hormones associated with happiness, love, trust, and empathy- as well as the release of phenylethylamine which has the same mood lifting effect on the body as chocolate.

Mentally, as well as reducing anxiety, animals can provide a source of comfort for students who may be experiencing loneliness and can even serve as an icebreaker between students who ordinarily might not have the chance to meet. 

These animals can also simply act as an escape from a hectic world- a chance to get away and smile. 

Our superintendent, Mr Cousins, is living proof that the integration of therapy dogs into an educational environment is possible. At his previous job at North Shore High School on Long Island there was a full time therapy dog that resided in their main office during school hours. 

Thus far, however, it seems that the BLPT is leaning towards bringing companion animals to Rhinebeck only for special occasions or particularly stressful times of the year.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the introduction of therapy animals to the RHS community is not nearly as far-fetched as it may sound.