Pets help North students de-stress during finals

Nora Ptacek, Senior Editor-in-Chief

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Did you notice the furry visitors at Appleton North this week?

From pugs, to golden retrievers, dogs of all sizes from the Fox Valley Humane Association’s Therapy Dog Program are in the Career Center to help students during finals through an event organized by DECA.

Bernadette (Bernie for short), Watson, Barkley, Stanley, and Gus all visited during the first two days of finals. But spending time at North isn’t all these therapy dogs do. Many work at multiple events from reading with kids in elementary schools to visiting airports – these Therapy Dogs are hard at work. Although they work though the Fox Valley Humane Association’s program, they all have loving homes. Many, like Bernie, Watson, and Barkley are rescue dogs who went through the Association’s three part training and certification program. To enter into the program dogs should be at least 1 year old, know basic commands, and have a calm demeanor. And if there is one trait all these dogs possess it is a gentleness that wards off stress. “She’s been calm ever since we met her,” Pam Peterson, Bernie’s owner and partner said. The program started with a dog named Gizzmo who unfortunately passed two months ago but now the program has about 45 teams (of dog and owner).

For many students, these visitors are an opportunity to lift up their day or decrease their stress levels, but for others it’s an opportunity to challenge some nervousness around dogs. No matter the reason, all the dogs will show them love. “She’s very very gentle, the worst she would do is lick your hand,” assured Pam. Bernie – who is, despite the greying snout, only 6.5 years old, loves to lick hands. She can catch students in a giggle as she runs her soft tongue across their hands. As if in affirmation of the pets, she raises her paw, a request her owner explains, for a belly rub. Bernie is a Vizlsa which is a Hungarian pointer dog. The Vizlsa’s are affectionately nicknamed “velcro dogs” because they always want to be with their owner, a nickname Pam confirms to be true to Bernie. “She is always by my side,” Pam adds as she describes Bernie’s attachment. The Petersons adopted Bernie when she was 2.5 years old and she has been with them since.

Although the dogs do a great job of remaining calm they do get a little excited to see each other. Bernie hadn’t seen the two pugs, Stanley (8) and Gus (12) in over a year so the dogs were allowed to greet each other for a few minutes before being asked to slow back down again. Watson and Bernie are good friends because Pam’s daughter, Jennifer Kitzman owns Watson – the tree walker coonhound. Watson was a rescue from Mississippi. He arrived in Wisconsin via the Bark Bus which, according to the  Fox Valley Humane Association’s website, “travels to overcrowded shelters in 15 of the Southern United States to pick up homeless dogs. These dogs, with otherwise uncertain futures, are brought back to Wisconsin where they are assured to find their loving forever families.” Watson is one of the dogs who found his forever family. Although Bernie, Stanley, and Gus are experienced therapy dogs; some working in the airport, at elementary schools, at the mall, and with the Boys & Girls Club, Watson and Barkley are relatively new to the profession. In fact, Barkley’s visit to Appleton North was one of his first few times working. But one would not be able to tell which dogs were long time therapy dogs and which were just getting started because each is as kind as the next. It is these gentle dogs that really brighten student’s days.

“This has been the best day of school I’ve had in 4 years,” said Senior Vincent Olson as he pet one of the dogs.

Vincent Olson and Raven Wilson visit Bernie in North’s career center. Photo by Adison Cole