Therapy dog helps Walled Lake Western students ease stress

'At least I saw a dog today, so it's all good,' Mifsud said

WALLED LAKE, Mich. – High school can be a tense time for many students, and they can feel pressured, anxious or depressed.

Those are reason the Walled Lake Consolidated School District has introduced a four-legged stress reliever for students. A 1-year-old yellow Lab named Dakoda is the school's new therapy dog, the first of her kind in Oakland County.

"It helps us create a safe and caring, loving environment," student Ali Hamka said. "Some kids, from a stress standpoint, are openly sharing that they're stressed."​​​​​​

Dakoda goes to Walled Lake Western High School. The school got the idea from social worker Ann Gray, who has been researching animal therapy for years.

"Animals in general have that impact on us. It has been proven that they lower your blood pressure, they increase your lifespan, they reduce that immediate stress level that we have," Gray said.

Social workers can bring the dog to a student who may need some comfort, or teachers can sign her out for their classrooms. Dakoda got a big welcome to the school at the first football game of the season.

Dakoda gets a break for fourth hour to nap and eat, and as she travels from classroom to classroom her bed comes with her. The school said it makes accommodations for anyone with allergies or students who may be afraid of dogs. They believe Dakoda is bridging the gap between students.

"She's not going to judge you. She's just there to love you," student Zahra Akinfolarin said.

"I'm like, at least I saw a dog today, so it's all good," student Gabrielle Mifsud said.

Dakoda goes home with a teacher every night. The district is hoping to eventually add a therapy dog to each school. They have said if there is a crisis at another school Dakoda will travel there to provide support.

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