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Therapy dogs in Michigan schools: why experts say they help kids dealing with trauma

Posted at 5:10 PM, Jan 03, 2022

(WXYZ) — This week when students return to Oxford schools, therapy dogs will be playing an important role in providing comfort, and it’s something experts agree is needed.

“The dogs in school can be a great help. I’m all for it," said Jacquelyn Night-Oliver. As a parent of two daughters in Rochester, Night-Oliver is a major supporter of the use of therapy dogs in schools.

Therapy dog trainer Michael Burkey with Michigan Dog Training adds the companions are simply, "very non-judgmental. Just pure love and helps take the focus off stress of what they’re dealing with.”

Related: New comfort dog named 'Oxford' to help students in Oxford Community Schools

At his K-9 school in Plymouth, Burkey says dogs learn to welcome affection and to provide comfort for kids, and teachers learn how to work with them.

“I trained eight therapy dogs for Novi Consolidated School District, those dogs are in classrooms not just for help in classes but also in counseling sessions.”

"Anything we can do to add to that feeling of comfort, that feeling of safety and security we are going to do," said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.

Sheriff Bouchard also shared his office’s newest addition with a goal of aiding students in healing.

"This is little Oxford, the first time anyone has seen him. He’s so cute and will be assigned to the Oxford sub station and the Oxford schools," he said.

Mental health expert Dr. Howard Belkin also weighed in with what research shows in addressing trauma, stress, feelings of isolation and PTSD for kids of all ages.

"The value of a therapy dog cannot be overstated. Whether it’s for adults or children, one of the greatest tools for psychologists or psychiatrists. Especially with the tragedy in Oxford, kids need to be able to relate to someone who can give them confidence, love and they can express their feelings. They can get back love, empathy and compassion," said Dr. Belkin.

It's compassion during times that can bring fear, frustration and doubt.

"It’s definitely needed. I would not want any school district to limit what they think the children need this day in age," said Night-Oliver.

The prosecutor’s office in Oakland County has also made therapy dogs available for the community, as we all come together to heal.