Therapy dogs help Nacogdoches ISD students learn lessons about empathy

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Just over a week ago, we told you how pet therapy is becoming increasingly popular in hospitals and nursing homes in Nacogdoches.

The specially trained dogs are also proving to be helpful at Nacogdoches ISD.
"How many people in here have ever had a dog before?" Emily Taravella, a Nacogdoches ISD counselor asked a group of 8th graders.

Taravella introduced the students to the newest members of the NISD counseling team on Tuesday.
"Things I like to tell people about them is Hope is very relaxed," Taravella said. "She likes to sit still and be petted and look pretty. And River likes to entertain people."

A lot of pets are special, but Taravella recognizes uniqueness in her dogs.

"I had seen therapy dogs used before and always had a lot of interest in it, and I just thought both these dogs had temperaments real suited for that," Taravella said.

Their calm nature comes despite a difficult past. Hope's before and after pictures show the transformation the rescued golden retriever has made. She's deaf due to severe allergies, but oh so happy.

River, an intelligent Australian shepherd, is on his fourth, but permanent home with the Taravella family.

Taravella said her dogs run out to the car every morning, hoping that they'll get to go with her to NISD campuses.
So they can help counselors help youngsters deal with challenges.

"A lot of times people when they are reluctant to open up with another person, they'll open up when an animal is there," Taravella said. "It makes them feel more relaxed, more calm and just more willing to share."

It happened today with special need students. K.J., like Hope, has a hearing challenge, but articulates well how animals can teach empathy to humans.

"They won't judge them. They won't lie to them," said K.J. Huey, an 8th grader. "No matter what trauma they've been through, they'll eventually come around."

Morgan Faulkner, student-"If you give them the love they need, they will give you the love you want."

And John Kuder isn't so sad anymore.

"It actually, kinda, cheered me up," Kuder said.

Hope and River are certified Canine Good Citizens. They're currently undergoing advanced training with Alliance of Therapy Dogs in Lufkin.

"It's been an educational process for everybody because if you do something like this, we feel like it's important to do it right."

It's a program just starting out, but so far, it has signs of receiving total approval from all participants.

Director of Student Support Services Christy Clark said she anticipates the pet therapy program will be a success.

She says Hope and River will even do some stress relief for teachers.

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