A hand to hold, a tail to be seen wagging or a mane to pet can provide comfort to those who need it.
To recognize this unconditional support, the William S. Hart Union School District invited humans and animals alike to their Therapy Animal Recognition on Wednesday.
Dozens of dogs, humans and even a horse made their way into the Hart district’s board room.
Kathy Hunter, assistant superintendent of Hart district, thanked all of the therapy animals and handlers for their attendance. She also expressed her gratitude toward the guide dogs working in the Hart district that were not able to attend.
May is known as being Mental Health Awareness Month. This event served as a way to personally say “thank you,” Hunter said.
She called up every handler with their animal to share their stories and present them with a bandanna with the words, “Furry friend, one Hart National Animal Therapy Day 2023.”
Every handler had their own unique story as to how they ended up going to junior high schools and high schools to make a difference with animal therapy.
“I originally got George because I had a sick daughter,” said Kim Weichel with Pet Partners. “She got cancer when she was 15 years old. I said, ‘God if you let her live, I will give back.’”
Weichel’s daughter survived her cancer and Weichel knew she had to stay true to her promise. What she didn’t know was how.
Weichel looked at George and saw her way to give back.
She worked with Pet Partners to train George as a therapy dog. George passed and became the first corgi to pass.
Stephanie Catcher works as a clinical supervisor for the Hart district. Seeing dogs on the campus and the impact they have on the students, Catcher decided she wanted to be a part of that.
“I was so inspired by all the wonderful work that you all do,” said Catcher. “It has really touched my heart and I decided to follow this path.”
Her dog Tellie is still in training, but on her way to becoming a part of the animal therapy community.
Each handler gave their animal a greater purpose with one decision to give back.
“I knew she had purpose,” said Beverly Torrance with Pet Partners.
Mike Kuhlman, superintendent of the Hart district, thanked every handler and animal for their service.
“What a sincere difference you make in the lives of our students and our staff,” said Kuhlman. “I remember the days when we thought, ‘You can’t bring a dog on campus,’ and how wrong were we?”
Everyone in the room was able to speak about the results and differences that the service animals have made on the campuses of Hart district schools.
“There is a 10th-grader at Hart (High School), she calls her ‘my stress-reliever,’” said Roseanne Strash, with Pet Partners, about her dog Talie. “Every time she (student) sees her (Talie), she (student) comes running, ‘Oh my gosh my stress reliever is here,’ and it is so neat. It’s just so gratifying and I love it. It’s just something I always wanted to do when I retired. I got to do what I dreamt about.”