By Emma Harkavy
Are you feeling stressed? Do you need something to take your mind off of your big test? Do you have some extra free time and want to smile? Read more about the furry friend that is beginning to make regular visits to the students and teachers of St. Mary’s.
A new furry friend appeared at St. Mary’s a couple of weeks ago, and students are excited about the new addition. Mrs. Whitten’s dog Mabel, a British lab, comes to school every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Aside from inducing a bit of puppy craze in the halls, the purpose of Mabel’s visits is to provide a relaxing break and an opportunity to de-stress.
Mrs. Whitten says, “the idea to bring Mabel to school came from working with one of the St. Mary’s Community Fund’s funded agencies, The Exceptional Foundation. Their executive director is one of the leaders of the West Tennessee Alliance of Therapy dogs. I talked to her about it and thought that it would be great if we could have a dog come to the Upper School.”
The executive director of The Exceptional Foundation, Jo Anne Fusco, has two therapy dogs of her own: Boss and Keys. In an interview with Style Blueprint, Jo Anne speaks to the visible difference that therapy dogs make in a person’s life, saying, “Therapy dogs do wonders. When we walk into West Cancer Center you can feel the endorphins beginning to work. Patients who were slumped down are now sitting up straight, smiling and wanting to visit with the dogs. It takes their minds off of why they are there and gives them a few minutes to hug, touch or just look at these beautiful, compassionate animals. And it’s not just for patients and customers; the staff need a good hug or paw to get them smiling and help increase their productivity.”
Mrs. Whitten hoped that Mabel could have the same effect on St. Mary’s girls, saying “having a dog at St. Mary’s would make it a warmer space that feels more like home. Even if students take a five second break to come sit and scratch Mabel, it will hopefully de-stress the environment and make St. Mary’s a happier place.”
In early 2017, Mrs. Whitten shared her proposal with Mrs. Mansberg and began undergoing the evaluation process to enable Mabel to become a certified therapy dog. This year, Dr. Leathers, assuming Mrs. Mansberg’s position of Assistant Head of School, continued the push to bring Mabel to campus. And, at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, the administration granted approval for Mabel’s visits.
Ultimately, the administration supported the addition of Mabel in hopes that it would serve as a stress reliever for students since it has been proven that even just seeing a dog wagging its tail or asking for a belly rub can instantly increase contentment and decrease anxiety; dogs are a natural mood-booster.
According to Help Guide, “More than any other animal, dogs have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions. While dogs are able to understand many of the words we use, they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.”
And, so far, St. Mary’s girls agree.
Now, instead of allowing the thoughts of impending tests and quizzes and assignments foster anxiety and stress, students are given an opportunity to pause - and to pet. Caitlyn Dawson (10) says, “seeing a dog and having the chance to pet it during a stressful day helps me forget about all of the stress and anxiety that comes with School.”
So, if you’re ever feeling stressed and want to take a breath - or give a pet - come visit Mrs. Whitten’s office where you’ll find Mabel lounging in her Hollywood Feed donated bed, ready to alleviate stress and offer calmness.