WMS Therapy Dog Creates Positive Environment

Since this semester’s arrival of Certified Therapy Dog Gretel at Westside Middle School, students and staff have said they experienced a more positive school environment. Gretel helps students with stressful situations or anxiety to relax with the support of an animal.

Social worker Kim Schenkelberg is Gretel’s owner and takes her to her office in the middle school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Schenkleberg said that Gretel often has visits from students in the morning and walks students to class, which can improve their mood throughout the day.

“The students were excited at the idea of their school having a therapy dog, so there was a boost to overall morale when she came at the beginning of second semester,” Schenkelberg said. “Several students routinely stop by on their way to class to see and pet her. Other students, who may experience anxiety will come to sit with her until they feel calmer and can return to class. Sometimes, when students are upset, they will help walk her around the building to think about their work with her on the leash, and have time to settle a bit.”

Since Gretel’s arrival, Schenkleberg said students have felt a stronger connection to their school and can count on having someone there who will listen to them without judgment.

“I think students feel a connection [to Gretel] because there is a dog in an unexpected place,” Schenkleberg said. “I think many people appreciate the unbiased care and affection a therapy dog provides and this can be comforting in a school environment. Many view her as something special at WMS and have a sense of pride that she is here.”

Like many students at Westside Middle School do, 7th grader Ava Wiechmann said that she often sees Gretel in the hallways and stops by to greet her.

“Gretel provides students who experience stress and anxiety at school another coping mechanism,” Wiechmann said. “Sometimes after school, I see Gretel walking around the halls with Ms. Schenkelberg, and so I often stop to say hi to her.”

Within the past few months, Wiechmann said she has noticed a positive change in the emotional dynamic of students that spend time with Gretel regularly.

“I have noticed that students have a different way to deal with the stress that comes with school, so they most likely feel less and less of the stress when they spend time with Gretel,” Wiechmann said.