ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Two schools in the Rochester City School District are using therapy dogs for students and the school counseling teams there say it’s been doing wonders for mental health. 

On Thursday, a few different classes at School of the Arts got special visits from the furry friends.

Sherry Vandermallie-Nash is a gym teacher at S.O.T.A. She helped launch the program before the pandemic hit, putting a pause on it for two years. 

“Not only did it put a pause on dogs being able to come in and join the kids, being live with us, but it also put a pause on the training classes, so the dogs couldn’t bring in new teams because they didn’t have the training essential to qualify for being a training dog,” Vandermallie-Nash said.  

Now, the program it’s up and running again. With the goal to eventually reach more schools across the district. 

Vandermallie-Nash says the effect on students’ social-emotional wellbeing — is profound. 

“The kids in the building that don’t know me, I’m ‘dog lady.’ They’re like, ‘Miss, miss,’ are the dogs here today?” she said.

“One of the biggest things is opening up, it’s funny how much you can open up when you’re just sitting there petting a dog, there’s that comfort zone,” Vandermallie-Nash said.  

One of her favorite moments with the dogs, involves music and she describes the first time senior Aidan Killigrew pulled out a harmonic, serenading their beagle. 

The two instantly connected. 

“Kacie ended up laying her head on my hand,” Killigrew said. “The dogs can give you an ice breaker of sorts if two people like dogs, people can share experiences with their own dogs.”

The dogs bring a unique experience for everyone: whether it’s in class, down the halls, or even the daily announcements 

“If we don’t provide the support, they’re not going to get it. Our kids need it and they need it from us,” said Vandermallie-Nash. The dogs undergo a 10-part test in order to be allowed into schools to serve as certified therapy dogs.  

Therapy Dogs International has over 90 teams here in the Rochester Area.