Oklahoma school district brings therapy dogs into the classroom to ease anxiety

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BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (KFOR) – Twice a month, students in Broken Arrow receive a visit from special, lovable guests.

Every other week, district officials say students get a visit from Tiger Tails, Broken Arrow High School’s therapy dog program.

“Therapy dogs are here to make us feel good, help us to be less stressed, have a peaceful moment,” said Karen Holman, Tiger Tails founder and Broken Arrow High School teacher. “They are great at helping us practice relationship skills. We’ve taken them into special ed classes, AP classes, you name it. We take our dogs there.”

The Tiger Tails program has been in place for almost eight years. Initially, Holman says she worked in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice programs.

She soon realized that her work could expand beyond those walls and into classrooms. When she saw how effective the program was in schools, she decided to shift her focus.

“The dogs are a conduit to communication, and a lot of times the students will open up and talk to us about what is on their mind when there is a dog present,” said Shirley Johnson, Tiger Tails volunteer. “We can sometimes get to the bottom of issues or concerns that they may have.”

Researchers say therapy dogs can have a positive effect on students and lead to gains in confidence, decreased anxiety, improved motivation, and an increase in school attendance.

“When you see the dogs come in and the excitement, it just offsets everything you’re feeling because it’s such a happy moment,” said J.J. MacDonald, Broken Arrow junior.

Holman is hoping to get more licensed dogs and handlers to help with requests for visits.

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