Friends with Paws is an initiative of the Communities In Schools (CIS) nonprofit in collaboration with Governor and First Lady Cathy Justice. It is West Virginia's statewide school therapy dog program, built around in-depth research and professional training methods. It is collaboration between the Office of the First Lady and the West Virginia Department of Education.
Each Friends With Paws therapy dog is trained extensively at Ultimate Canine in Westfield, Indiana, where owner Julie Case has created a state of the art 20 step temperament test to evaluate and identify the in-born natural traits of dogs. With over 27 years of experience testing thousands of puppies and dogs around the world, Julie and her staff are able to determine if certain dogs could become school therapy dogs in the future.
Since therapy dogs are working with students, great care is taken to ensure that the dogs are trained at the highest level by one of the top therapy dog organizations in the country. Prior to coming to West Virginia, each therapy dog is highly trained and certified to show their ability to work in stressful environments, ignore distractions, manage crowds, and provide therapy to people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances. In addition, they have hours of experience traveling to places with large amounts of people so that they can practice and hone their skills. Each Friends With Paws therapy dog is specially trained to respond to trauma while providing comfort, support, and love to our state’s students. Therapy dogs can also be avid “listeners”, providing an audience for children who have difficulty reading aloud in front of an entire class. The student practices reading to the dog so that they are able to gain confidence reading aloud.
As of February 2023, 11 therapy dogs have been placed in CIS schools across the state.
Coal - Welch Elementary, McDowell County
Foster - Buckhannon Academy Elementary, Upshur County
Jasper - Lewis County High School, Lewis County
River - Pineville Elementary School, Wyoming County
Shadow - Moorefield Elementary, Hardy County
Jet - Spring Mills High School, Berkeley County
Kylo - Lenore Pk-8 School, Mingo County
Winnie - Wayne Elementary School, Wayne County
Kasha - Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, Pocahontas County
Marshal - Hinton Area Elementary School, Summers County
Louie - Bridgeview Elementary, Kanawha County