WELCH — A local school’s students met a new friend Friday who’s coming to school every day to help cheer them up when they’re sad and listen to their troubles while he wags his tail.
Gov. Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice visited Welch Elementary School to help introduce Coal, a male Labrador Retriever trained to be a therapy dog. Welch Elementary is the West Virginia’s first school to receive a therapy dog through the new Friends With Paws program.
Students were ready to welcome their new friend Coal when he arrived at their school. Posters featuring Coal and slogans like “We dig Coal” and “You had us at woof!” were being displayed around the gymnasium.
“We’re embarking on something really special,” Justice said. “Our amazing students are the reason for all of this. In this day and age, it can be pretty stressful to be a kid. But to have a little doggie like Coal at school, who loves everybody, all the time, it’s going to brighten our students’ spirits and warm their hearts like you can’t imagine.”
The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the governor’s office, the West Virginia Communities In School (CIS) Nonprofit and the state Department of Education. Therapy dogs like Coal will help by offering a comforting outlet for students facing trauma and other issues.
“We’re embarking on something really special,” Justice told the children. “Our amazing students are the reason for all of this. In this day and age, it can be pretty stressful to be a kid. But to have a little doggie like Coal at school, who loves everybody, all the time, it’s going to brighten our students’ spirits and warm their hearts like you can’t imagine.”
The governor’s family has several dogs so they know what dogs can bring to the lives of children.
“This idea started when we visited a school that already had a therapy dog. The difference that it made in the lives of those students was incredible; absences went down, grades went up – it was just a great environment,” First Lady Justice said at the pep rally for Coal. “So I am delighted to introduce the very first dog in our Friends With Paws program and I thank you for welcoming Coal into your school. He is going to be your best friend, and will surely be a big part of your lives.”
In line with the event’s theme of being a Pup Rally, the Governor and First Lady Justice also brought along their own companion, Babydog, for the ceremony.
“I have someone here who wants to be Coal’s best friend,” Gov. Justice said as the dogs got acquainted and played together in the Welch Elementary School gymnasium.
After the ceremony, students and staff had the chance to meet both Coal and Babydog. As the students filed out of the gym, they petted the dogs and got acquainted.
Cathy Justice said more dogs are coming in other CIS schools across West Virginia throughout the year, including schools in Upshur, Lewis, and Pocahontas counties.
Buckhannon Academy Elementary School in Upshur County will receive a male Golden Labradoodle named Foster. Lewis County High School in Lewis County will receive a female Yellow Lab named Jasper. Green Bank Elementary-Middle School in Pocahontas County will receive a male Yellow Lab named Jet.
Friends With Paws also plans to place a therapy dog in Hardy County later this summer. The initial goal of the program is to place a total of at least 10 dogs in West Virginia schools in 2022.
Katie Morris, who is special assistant to the first lady, said she is also functioning as “the dog czar” for the therapy dog program.
“We started this program with the blessing of the governor and the first lady about a year and a half ago,” Morris recalled while students visited with the dogs. “And I spent so many days, so much research, to try and find the best therapy dog organization in the country. So we looked at a lot of different avenues, but eventually we decided to go with Ultimate Canine, a professional therapy dog organization out of Indiana.”
Ultimate Canine comes to West Virginia to train the dogs in the schools, Morris said.
Coal, who is about a year old, started his therapy dog training while he was still with his litter, said dog trainer Beth Johnson of Ultimate Canine in Westfield, Indiana. The dogs are chosen for their temperament and their willingness to interact with people.
The therapy dogs will belong to each individual school and will become part of the community. Shannon Pace, Welch Elementary’s Communities in Schools site facilitator, will keep Coal at her family’s home. Other teachers are being trained to work with Coal, too. When at home and off duty, Coal can be a regular dog, she said.
Her son Grayson Pace said having Coal at school “will really be nice,” and help students deal with problems like test anxiety.
“Dogs are great,” said student Jaylen King. “They help you, they protect you and all that.”
Attributed to Greg Jordan https://www.bdtonline.com/news/welch-elementary-school-gets-coal-the-therapy-dog/article_5974e982-b775-11ec-95bc-8b363472585a.html