Article by Phoenix writer Isabel Connolly ’22:
Every student who passes through the halls of Kellenberg knows of Beato or has played with Goretti. Many students joke that the “Kellenberg Dogs” were one of the deciding factors in their decision to come to Kellenberg. Kellenberg is so unique in the fact that it’s completely normal for a dog to come running through a classroom with its “master” (who’s kidding who? We know who’s really in charge). Everyone would agree that the Kellenberg dogs are an integral part of the community and atmosphere at Kellenberg.
As a simple Google search will reveal, in recent years, there has been a noticeable influx in the use of dogs around workplaces and schools.
In fact, in many schools, therapy dogs are trained and certified to provide psychological and physiological therapy to individuals or groups who are not their handler. No doubt, sometimes there is no better medicine than the love of a dog.
But Kellenberg seems to have been ahead of the curve when it comes to having dogs in school.
Before the first bell even rings, students may pass by Principal Bro. Kenneth Hoagland’s Samoyed, Beato, or Assistant Principal for Activities Bro. Roger Poletti’s little Yorkshire terrier, Matthias.
Senior Francis Binkley says, “I love Beato. He’s just a giant fluffy dog. He’s really well-behaved and it’s super relaxing to just pet him.
Sometimes I go down to the General Office just to see him. He’s just a really cool dog.”
Kellenberg’s Assistant Principal for Guidance, Mrs. Marconi noted that she often sees a student come into guidance stressed out. If one of the dogs is there, the stress seems to immediately dissipate as the student starts petting the dog. While the student body loves these dogs, they are not, in fact, certified therapy dogs.
Ms. Talita Ferrara, Director of Molloy College’s Student Personal Counseling Center, is the owner of Molloy’s own certified therapy dog, Lucy. Ms. Ferrara had Lucy for several years before two years ago when Lucy became a therapy dog. The certification process was very involved. To get Lucy certified, Ms. Ferrara and Lucy had to go to meetings with program volunteers. The volunteers would check to see how Lucy and Ms. Ferrara interacted. A therapy dog must be friendly, patient, gentle and at ease in all situations and with everyone they interact with. Lucy had to pass a test where she was touched from head to toe to see if there were any triggers. Following these tests, Ms. Ferrara had to take Lucy to various sites such as a nursing home where she interacted with patients.
Ms. Ferrara decided to certify Lucy because of one of the therapy dog events Molloy hosts. She has worked with Molloy for eleven years and had always noted that the event was well attended. She finally realized that Lucy would be the perfect candidate to become a therapy dog and pitched the idea to Molloy.
Ms. Ferrara cited multiple studies illustrating the benefits of therapy dogs. The demographic most aided, besides hospital patients, is college and high school students. In fact, the National Institutes of Health conducted an experiment with 82 university students. They had students watch dog videos and then directly interact with a dog after giving an anxiety-inducing test. Their findings indicated that all participants regardless of condition had a reduction in their anxiety and an improved mood. According to the American College Health Association, stress is the most commonly reported barrier to a student’s academic success. Other studies have indicated pet owners have enhanced self-esteem, reduced levels of loneliness and anxiety, more ambition, and more positive moods. With the countless studies proving their effectiveness, it is apparent why an increasing number of schools are employing therapy dogs.
Ms. Ferrara noted that within the past three years she has seen more and more directors of college counseling centers looking into therapy dogs for their schools.
Mrs. Marconi commented that she looked at Kellenberg as “the brothers sharing their home.” The dogs have evolved into a living symbol of the community that the Marianists foster at Kellenberg. Inarguably, the presence of dogs around the building makes students feel welcome.
This welcome might be an important ingredient in the recipe to wellness and belonging. And that goes for the dogs too!
Junior Joaquin Chungata, a self-professed dog lover, has a Maltese-Havanese mix named Daisy at home. And like so many of us, he misses his pooch while he’s at school. Thankfully, Kellenberg’s dogs can fill that void! Specifically, Joaquin spends some time nearly daily with Chaplain Fr. Thomas Cardone’s mini-golden doodle, Goretti. Named after the famous St. Maria Goretti, the energetic pup loves going for walks with students and playing fetch with her ever-present lacrosse ball.
Joaquin loves taking Goretti for walks, saying, “I think it’s peaceful. Spending time with Goretti breaks up the day. You know, school can be a lot sometimes, so I look forward to any time I can get with her.”
Mrs. Marconi herself brings in her dog, Scout, named after the famous Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird character. The Guidance AP and ninth-grade English teacher believes her dog benefits from being in the school just as much as the students who get to see her do.
Molloy’s Ms. Ferrara also noted this in her work. Ms. Ferrara says, “The dogs enjoy the attention they receive from students. It brightens the dog’s day just as much as it does the students’.”
Perhaps most importantly though, Ms. Ferrara believes therapy dogs “normalize counseling.” Many students may come in uncertain about therapy. The therapy dog eases their nerves. The dog makes counseling feel like going to a friend’s house, similar to the effect the cuddly pups have at Kellenberg.
Mrs. Marconi also noted the impression the Kellenberg dogs make on the students and how each dog seems to carry its own following of students. Groups of students will often come to walk Matthias or Goretti. At the beginning of each lunch period, students will flood through the A.R.K. just to pass by and pet Goretti. Mrs. Marconi recalled that a few years ago on their last day, several seniors came into the general office solely because they wanted to say goodbye to Beato. Some of the students were even moved to tears at the thought of saying goodbye to the dogs at Kellenberg.
While Kellenberg may not have certified therapy dogs like Molloy’s Lucy, the students certainly benefit from the joy and love of all the dogs.