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Bringing People Together
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Even before the coronavirus began to seriously affect mental health among people of all ages,children were struggling with depression, anxiety, the need to be perfect, conflict resolution andidentifying and expressing their feelings. In ages 6-17, research is showing that social isolationhas exacerbated behavioral health issues, complicating family dynamics and struggles inacademic settings. Many schools are seeking new and innovative ways to connect with studentsas they return to classrooms.

The first formal therapeutic work and research in Animal Assisted Therapy was presented

by Dr. Boris Levinson. In 1961, while counseling a withdrawn and mentally impaired young

boy, Dr. Levinson made an “accidental discovery” involving his dog, Jingles. Levinson briefly

left Jingles alone with the boy and, when he returned, found the young boy interacting with

the dog. This inspired Levinson to do further research with Jingles and his young patients.

He found that the presence of a dog during therapy sessions had a positive effect on

impaired young patients. Levinson later used the expression “pet therapy” in reference to

Jingles’ beneficial effects on mentally impaired children in a therapeutic setting (Levinson,

1964). In 1969 (p3), Dr. Levinson wrote:

“It has by no means been the intention of this writer to indicate that pets are a panacea for

all the ills of society or for the pain involved in growing up and growing old. However, pets

are both an aid to and a sign of the rehumanization of society. They are an aid in that they

help to fill needs which are not being met in other, perhaps better ways, because society

makes inadequate provision for meeting them. In the meantime, animals can provide some

relief, give much pleasure and remind us of our origins.”

There are a number of service dog organizations who reassign failed service dogs to work

in school settings. Bella’s Buddies is the first organization of its kind that specifically trains

highly-intuitive canines to provide therapy services in educational institutions. There are no

reassignments. Instead, puppies are evaluated and trained to target areas of need involving

struggling students, from the elementary counselor’s office to the high school volleyball

team. Some Bella’s Buddies dogs train to alert to changes in blood sugar, allowing students

and staff to respond sooner than they normally would. Other dogs help occupational and

physical therapists in special needs classrooms by providing balance support or motivation.

English Language Learners are more willing to take risks as they navigate classroom

activities. During the 2018-19 school year, research indicated that at the middle and

secondary levels, some students who previously had isolated themselves were more likely

to participate in class discussions or extracurricular activities. Others who were diagnosed

with ADHD exhibited more respect toward peers and teachers simply because there was a

dog in the room. These students were more likely to think before acting out or talking loudly,

often apologizing to the dog before acknowledging the humans. On one high school

campus, attendance increased among teachers and students, behavior referrals decreased,

student participation in activities outside the classroom improved and surveys among

students, staff and parents revealed an overall feeling that the campus climate was better

than previous school years.

Amanda Davis, one of Bella’s Buddies’ co-founders, is a former teacher and school

administrator. Throughout her almost twenty years working in public schools, Amanda

understood that mental well-being was equally as important as school work. After leaving

public education, Amanda made it a priority to offer help to school communities during times

of crisis by offering Animal Assisted Therapy services. Today, the DogSquad visits school

communities who experience the loss of a student or teacher. They also help with interviews

when Child Protective Services visits school campuses. The largest part of the mission at

Bella’s Buddies is that the organization trains and places dogs in schools where they can

permanently have a positive impact on mental and emotional well-being.

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