Furry friends provide comfort to Johnston students


JOHNSTON, Ia. (Jan. 28, 2022) — If you were at the high school and heard a bark or meow, you weren’t mistaken. Duke, a yellow Lab, and Link, an orange cat, were there for a visit.

The Animal Rescue League (ARL)’s TheraPets program came to Johnston High School this week, connecting animals with students to bring happiness, comfort, companionship, relaxation and enjoyment.

“Seeing the positive impact of TheraPets is so rewarding,” said Cat Turner McAuliffe, the ARL’s TheraPets coordinator. “On several school visits I’ve done (not JHS), I’ve had students cry from sheer joy upon seeing TheraPets enter their classrooms. I’ve heard kids say, ‘I was having the worst day until the TheraPets came. I feel so much better!’”

TheraPets have visited Johnston students for at least seven years. A creative writing teacher in 2016 brought therapy animals such as Rocky the boxer to Johnston’s Youth Home of Mid-America, now called Ellipsis. Then in 2018, the program was brought to Johnston High School by a school counselor who wanted to nurture students’ mental health.Therapets2

“The Therapets have been coming to Johnston once or twice a month this year,” said school counselor Sarah Love. “The students have loved seeing the pets. It is a nice break for them from the stress and anxiety school can cause. Whenever students hear the Therapets will be in the building, their faces light up.”

Therapy animals have proven benefits for people’s physical and mental health. They can potentially lower blood pressure, treat depression and anxiety, improve physical and mental stimulation and enhance quality of life.

“It’s so fulfilling for both of us,” said McAuliffe, whose bulldog Dottie is also TheraPets certified. “Dottie’s ‘job’ is something that comes naturally and what she enjoys most — love everyone she meets! And I love seeing how happy everyone is when they meet her.”

ARL TheraPets teams visit schools as well as nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, hospices and libraries. Visits typically last one hour. Other pets in the program have included bunnies, parrots, guinea pigs and a duck.

Visits by therapy pets continue to be in high demand and the program is always in need of more volunteers. If you’d like to volunteer, request a TheraPets visit or think your pet has what it takes to be a TheraPet, learn more about the program at www.arl-Iowa.org/TheraPets.