By Matthew Young, RealWV
SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Youngsters at South Charleston’s Bridgeview Elementary School had the chance to meet the state’s eleventh furry faculty member on Thursday, as Louie the therapy dog was introduced to a gymnasium full of smiling students. On hand for the event was “Babydog’s mom” herself – First Lady Cathy Justice.
“We were thrilled to see the turnout to welcome Louie to Bridgeview Elementary,” the First Lady said after the event. “He has truly been greeted with open arms by the South Charleston community, and I can’t wait to see the impact he has on the students here.”
Therapy dogs are provided to the state’s public schools through the Communities In Schools (CIS) Friends With Paws program. Through a collaborative effort between the W.Va. Department of Education and the Office of the First Lady, therapy dogs have been placed in 10 other schools throughout the state.
Joining Justice for Thursday’s presentation was City of South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens, as well as several members of the South Charleston City Council. Faculty, family, and community members were also in attendance to meet Louie. Watch the video from the event below.
“Having a therapy dog at Bridgeview will help support the social and emotional needs of not only our exceptional students, but all the students,” Bridgeview Elementary School Principal Stephenie Haynes said. “Students have been counting down the days until his (Louie’s) arrival. Our hope is that Louie provides comfort for those hard days that students may experience and motivation to come to school when staying home seems easier.”
The Friends With Paws program works closely with CIS-partnered schools throughout West Virginia. Therapy dogs are provided to schools “where students are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance misuse, or other at-risk situations, and are in the greatest need of a support animal. The dogs serve as a healthy and friendly outlet for these students to address trauma and other social-emotional issues.” The first therapy dog was placed in McDowell County in the Spring of 2022. Since that time, nine additional therapy dogs have been placed in schools across the state.
Oakvale Elementary School in Mercer County will become West Virginia’s twelfth public school to receive a therapy dog through the CIS Friends With Paws program. A male apricot and white labradoodle will be arriving there this Spring.
Late in 2022, West Virginia Public Broadcasting produced a documentary about the program, titled: Communities In Schools: Friends With Paws. The full documentary is available by following the link below.
Photos by Matthew Young, RealWV