Puppy Cubby not present during this year’s finals season


Senior Sami Gotskind pets a dog during North Time in puppy cubby last year.

The stress-relieving psychology project was disbanded after implementation of district policy.

Puppy cubby, a designated North Time therapy program run by both psychology students and connections classroom advisors, has not made an appearance at BVN this school year. According to newly enforced administrative guidelines, the therapy dogs used within this program are not permitted on school grounds.

Due to a rise in popularity in the use of emotional support animals around schools, the district fine-tuned the guidelines for student interaction specifically with  service dogs. Two criteria must be met in order for a service dog to be allowed on campus: it must aid a specific student or adult and it must have a specific task in addressing a disability.

“This guideline summed up social dogs or dogs not required by a particular student or adult are not allowed in our school building,” Principal Tyson Ostroski said.

Interrelated resource teacher Lindsay Norber proposed a design thinking challenge to Ann Salimbene’s psycology class last school year, recognizing the possible benefit of interaction with emotional support dogs. Teaming up with Pet Partners, an outreach organization for therapy animals, students and connections advisors created puppy cubby. The students within the resource program, specifically those with social skill deficits and anxieties, were invited to interact with these volunteer dogs.

“Some students, [who] have some social skills deficits, when the dogs were around could hold conversations — coherent conversations,” Norber said.

While puppy cubby was regularly attended by these 13 students with identifiable problems, the program was open for every person at BVN. Kristi Herschberger, a Navigators teacher who works with Norber, noted how these therapy dogs touched students’ emotions.

“We had some students, who I didn’t know who they were, and we had to call a counselor down because they would come in and just pet the dog and tear up,” Herschberger said.

According to the American Psychological Association, the difference between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals is still considered vague under guidelines and laws. While it is believed that the presence of these therapy providers has the potential to alleviate psychological symptoms, they do not fall under the same protections as certified service dogs do under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

More and more universities are having to grapple with student requests for emotional support dogs, especially around final exams time. Tina Kirwan has been bringing Meeko, a certified therapy dog, to BVN during finals seasons for years.

“I think you all are stressed,” Kirwan said. “You’re going on your last couple days of classes and you’re learning what’s going to be on your finals and I think it’s really good to have a little time to decompress.”

As for the future of puppy cubby and therapy dogs at BVN, there are resource students who are requesting their presence at the school again. While the administrative guideline still stands in place, Ostroski does not believe that this shuts the door on the conversation.

“If we have students with disabilities who this is going to assist and work to destress, hey I’m up for it. Nobody’s wanting to shut those opportunities down.”