Wellness Dogs brighten the days of the West Ranch student body


Camille Ayson and Lauren Guss


   Therapy dogs have long been an aspect of the Wellness Center, run by West Ranch’s school social worker, Nancy Phillips. She manages the therapy dogs that come to our school weekly in hopes of providing support for students. 

   Therapy animals are a good way to relieve stress and improve physical well-being. Having these therapy dogs at our school has been helpful in many ways and students seem to enjoy visiting them.

   Freshman Angelina Morey said, “I enjoy seeing the wellness center dogs because I’ve always enjoyed seeing dogs and [they] always make me feel happy. Seeing the therapy dog at the wellness center whenever I’m sad at school makes me feel energized.”

   Moses, Gus and the other Wellness Center therapy dogs are back on campus and ready to support the student body’s mental health. Students can visit therapy dogs every week at lunch for the rest of the year with the current volunteers.

   Mrs. Philips shared with The Paw Print, “We actually had [therapy dogs] the very first year that we opened, so this would be our third year. At that time, we had two dogs that rotated, so we had a dog on campus probably twice a month for the whole time until we left for the pandemic. And now we’re doing the same thing. We now have three dogs. We’re hoping that there will be one that will be able to rotate, so there will be one either on campus or in the center every week.”

   Now, therapy dogs are being integrated into campus life. For example, “There are a couple of teachers who have requested that the dogs come and visit their classrooms either right before lunch or right after, so that was very cool. And one of the health teachers is also going to have the dogs be part of their class on as they study mental health. So they’ve been a very nice attribute to the center and to our students,” Mrs. Philips added.

   Dogs offer unique benefits to a classroom setting. According to Diamond and Lee in the National Institute of Health, the presence of a dog in a classroom “seems to support concentration, attention, motivation, and relaxation reflecting reduction of high stress levels which inhibit effective learning and performance. Also, the presence of a dog creates a pleasant social atmosphere, which is known to be an essential component for optimal executive functioning (Diamond and Lee, 2011), which represents a precondition for learning.” 

   Mrs. Phillips had noticed that students are forming special bonds with the caring canines by the amount of returning visitors. She described how students who develop connections with the dogs are always welcome to come back to the Wellness Center to see them. 

   “And it’s not a long term thing,” Phillips said, “You don’t have to come into the center and be around the dog for your entire lunch. You can come in, pet the dog, get a hug from a dog and take off. And sometimes it’s enough to boost you through the rest of the day, so I think it has been helpful.”

   West Ranch is very fortunate to have dogs on campus with the help of volunteer handlers and their therapy dogs. Mrs. Phillips heard of different volunteer therapy dog programs from a friend of hers in the district. Her school had already implemented these canines on the campus. She became connected to the volunteers that own therapy dogs as well as received word from other handlers themselves who would like to offer their time to West Ranch. Our campus is grateful to have important assets to student wellness in such proximity to the valley to utilize.

   Along with therapy dogs, the Wellness Center offers other services to students to promote a healthy mind, in turn creating happy learning environments. The Wellness Center is beginning to hold drum circles, national-day activities, wellness presentations and more. Be sure to stop by and take part in these opportunities, either to participate in these activities or to just be in the calming environment in the Center. 

   Mrs. Phillips is available if any student needs to talk. To schedule an appointment in-person or via Zoom, text the online scheduler at (661)-505-8866, stop by the Center or send Mrs. Phillips an email at [email protected]