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First Lady Cathy Justice welcomes newest Friends With Paws therapy dogs at New Martinsville School and Parkersburg High School

CHARLESTON, WV – First Lady Cathy Justice yesterday welcomed the state’s newest therapy dogs through the Friends With Paws program during an assembly at New Martinsville School and Parkersburg High School.

Molly, a female Yellow Labrador Retriever, was placed at New Martinsville School. 

Barney, a male Yellow Labrador Retriever, was placed at Parkersburg High School.
“You wouldn’t believe how perfect a match these two dogs are for New Martinsville and Parkersburg,” First Lady Justice said. “The way these dogs connected with the children in their schools was an amazing thing to watch. I cannot wait to see what benefits and support Molly and Barney bring to their schools, children, and communities.”
 
The Friends With Paws program places certified therapy dogs in several schools across the state, providing companionship and comfort for students in need of a boost. With these new additions, 28 Friends With Paws therapy dogs have been placed across the state.

Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort and support to people in various tense environments. They can help people feel at ease, improve their mood, relieve anxiety, and remove social barriers. Therapy dogs are highly trained and certified to show their ability to work in stressful environments, ignore distractions, and provide therapy to people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

"We are thrilled to welcome Molly, our first therapy dog, to New Martinsville School,” Principal of New Martinsville School Stacey Walton said. “Molly's presence is a heartwarming addition to our school community, providing comfort and support to students and staff alike. She is an invaluable resource in fostering a nurturing and inclusive environment. We look forward to the positive impact she will have on our school's atmosphere."

Following yesterday's assemblies, students and staff had the chance to greet Molly and Barney.

“Our students suffer today more than ever from anxiety and depression,” Principal of Parkersburg High School Kenneth DeMoss said. “A therapy dog provides a different kind of comfort, and we are excited that we have been graciously given this opportunity to make our school better by Barney being here.”

The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, West Virginia Communities In Schools (CIS) Nonprofit, and the West Virginia Department of Education. Therapy dogs are placed in schools within CIS counties where students are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance misuse, or other at-risk situations, and are in the greatest need of a support animal. The dogs serve as a healthy and friendly outlet for these students to address trauma and other social-emotional issues.

The most recent 2024 Friends With Paws therapy dogs are as follows:
  • Clara, a female Golden Retriever, at Brooke Middle School, Brooke County
  • Parker, a male Golden Retriever, at Wheeling Park High School, Ohio County
  • Pixie, a female Apricot Labradoodle, at Lewisburg Elementary School, Greenbrier County
  • Captain, a male Golden Retriever, at Sherman High School, Boone County
  • Eli, a male Golden Retriever, at Nutter Fort Primary School, Harrison County
  • Opera, a female Chocolate Labrador Retriever, at West Fairmont Middle School, Marion County
  • Maverick, a male Golden Retriever, at James Monroe High School, Monroe County
More information about Friends With Paws can be found in Communities In Schools: Friends With Paws, a documentary produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Click HERE to view the documentary.
A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in the classroom promotes a positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body.
 
In addition, research shows that the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Therapy animals’ lower anxiety and help people relax, provide comfort, reduce loneliness, and increase mental stimulation. They are also shown to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, reduce the number of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety, and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.
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