First Lady Cathy Justice welcomes newest Friends With Paws therapy dog to Richwood Middle School

CRAIGSVILLE, W.Va. – First Lady Cathy Justice visited Richwood Middle School on June 24 for an assembly to celebrate the arrival of the state’s newest therapy dog through the Friends With Paws program.

The dog introduced at the event is named Jax, and he is a Yellow Labrador Retriever.

“I am so excited to see Jax put his excellent skills to work here at Richwood Middle. The Friends With Paws therapy dogs are trained extensively to benefit everyone in the school, not only the students,” First Lady Cathy Justice said. “They can sense anxiety and stress in students and help deter those feelings so that they can focus on their studies rather than what they have going on at home. Jax will fit in just fine here at his new home, I can already tell how loved he will be.”

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. As of June 2024, a total of 32 Friends With Paws therapy dogs, including Jax, have been placed throughout 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 the assembly, students and staff had the chance to greet Jax.

“Richwood Middle is grateful to Friends with Paws, Communities In Schools, the Governor and First Lady Justice for bringing Jax into our school,” Principal of Richwood Middle School Gene Collins said. “We can already sense the unconditional love and hope that he is going to bring to our students, staff, and community. Jax will make a great ‘best friend’ for all of our students.”

The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, West Virginia Communities In Schools (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.

A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in the classroom promotes a 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 number of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety, and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.

More information about Friends With Paws can be found in “Communities In Schools: Friends With Paws,” a documentary produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The documentary can be viewed below:

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