Who Let the Dogs Out? Youth Homes of Mid-America.

Rocky, the therapy dog, encouraging a student

Rocky encourages a student hard at work on the computer.

Johnston’s Youth Home of Mid-America, with the help of the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Iowa, welcomed a new student: Rocky the boxer.

Rocky is a rescue that was trained through the ARL’s TheraPets program to be a therapy dog. He has worked as a therapy dog for four years, and judging by the constant smile on his face, Rocky loves his job.

Maren Scharf, creative writing teacher, was the first to welcome Rocky to her class. Scharf had her students research therapy dogs and how having one would benefit the class. Scharf said her students learned that dogs have positive health effects on people and provide lasting friendships.

“Rocky is our friend,” said Scharf. “He has become a friend to each student and helps encourage them with their work.”

In a report titled “why therapy dogs are a good idea for schools,” one student wrote that “It is a proven fact that pets calm loneliness and relieve stress, stroking, anxiety, and depression. They also encourage exercise, playfulness, and even improve  Cardiovascular Health.”

Rocky, the therapy dog, shakes hands with a student

Rocky shakes hands with a student.

Now, Rocky attends occasional classes and hangs out with the students – helping them focus on their work in the computer lab, prompting projects and discussions, and much more.

“We are learning as we go,” said Scharf. “There are many different ways to incorporate therapy dogs in the curriculum and my students and I plan to explore our options.”

Kim Antisdel, interim associate principal for Youth Homes of Mid-America, said that Scharf’s class is currently the only classroom to have visits from Rocky, but the program could expand in the future. Antisdel also said that some students engage in one-on-one programs with Rocky where they help train him in various obedience skills and tricks.

To learn more about TheraPets, visit the ARL website.