Oakvale Elementary School receives Friends With Paws therapy dog, Oakley

PRINCETON, WV – First Lady Cathy Justice visited Oakvale Elementary School Thursday for an assembly to celebrate the arrival of the state’s next therapy dog through the Friends With Paws Communities In Schools (CIS) program.

The dog introduced at today’s event is named Oakley. He is an Apricot and White Labradoodle.

“Today is a very special day for the students and staff of Oakvale Elementary,” First Lady Justice said. “Everyone is so excited to have Oakley, and I couldn’t be happier for them. I know Oakley will provide comfort and support to the students for years to come!”

The Friends With Paws program places certified therapy dogs in several schools across the state, providing companionship and comfort for students in need of a boost. Since April 2022, twelve Friends With Paws therapy dogs have been placed in CIS schools across the state.

Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort and support to people in various tense environments. They can help people feel at ease, improve their mood, relieve anxiety, and remove social barriers. Therapy dogs are highly trained and certified to show their ability to work in stressful environments, ignore distractions, and provide therapy to people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

Following today’s assembly, students and staff had the chance to greet Oakley.

“We feel so incredibly blessed at Oakvale to have Oakley with us,” Oakvale Elementary School Principal LaCosta Hodges said. “He is going to have such a positive impact on our students’ attendance and social emotional health. Our students have so much love to give, and Oakley will fit in perfectly with our family!”

The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, West Virginia CIS Nonprofit, and the West Virginia Department of Education. Therapy dogs are placed in schools within CIS counties 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.

Schools that previously received therapy dogs through the Friends With Paws program include:

  • Coal, a male Black Labrador, at Welch Elementary, McDowell County
  • Foster, a male Golden Labradoodle, at Buckhannon Academy Elementary, Upshur County
  • Jasper, a female Yellow Labrador, at Lewis County High School, Lewis County
  • River, a male Yellow Labrador, at Pineville Elementary School, Wyoming County
  • Shadow, a male Black Labrador, at Moorefield Elementary School, Hardy County
  • Jet, a male Yellow Labrador, at Spring Mills High School, Berkeley County
  • Kylo, a male Black Labrador, at Lenore PK-8 School, Mingo County
  • Winnie, a female Apricot and White Labradoodle, at Wayne Elementary School, Wayne County
  • Kasha, a female Yellow Labrador, at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, Pocahontas County
  • Marshal, a male Cream Labradoodle, at Hinton Area Elementary School, Summers County
  • Louie, a male Yellow Labrador, at Bridgeview Elementary School, Kanawha County

More information about Friends With Paws can be found in Communities In Schools: Friends With Paws, a documentary produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Click HERE to view the documentary.

A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in the classroom promotes positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body.

In addition, research shows that the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Therapy animals lower anxiety and help people relax, provide comfort, reduce loneliness, and increase mental stimulation. They are also shown to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, reduce the amount of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety, and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.

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