COPPERAS COVE, TX — Copperas Cove High School introduced a therapy dog for its students and staff.
Sam belongs to 9th grade English teacher James Oritz who thought his dog's gentle demeanor would be perfect to help calm the student's nerves and reduce their stress for semester exams.
The shepherd mix is a rescue from the Copperas Cove Animal Control Facility.
“My next step was to research what I had to do to accomplish this because I knew there had to be training to do what I wanted to with Sam,” Ortiz said, who has worked for Copp. “It took two to four weeks, including the training, for Sam and me. A therapy dog has certain requirements to meet for demeanor, behavior, commands, and focus. Though not as intense as a service dog's training, if a therapy dog doesn't meet any one of the requirements, the animal will not be certified.”
Ortiz and Sam walk the halls in the morning to greet students.
“Even students I don't have in class approach Sam and me and start a conversation about him and their pets. Sam is a great conversation starter,” Ortiz said. ”It's great way to get to know the students. A few students mentioned that they wanted to see Sam before they took their exams.”
Ortiz said he still remembers the special needs students Sam met on his first day at the school.
“I teared up, seeing their faces light up and how loving they were with Sam,” Ortiz said. “Suffice it to say, Sam was drawn to them and he loved the attention.”
Oritz has been teaching in Copperas Cove for 25 years.
“For as long as I have taught, I have seen many problems and issues our students have faced,” Ortiz said. “If having Sam can alleviate a student's bad day, prevent a conflict or adolescent drama from turning into a fight, or just give a positive feeling for people, then Sam has done his job. If I had a therapy animal for those students in my past, I know it would have helped some of them, even if only to get through the day. When it comes to our students, the benefits of having a therapy dog on campus surely outweigh any argument against it,” Oritz said.
The English teacher says he has personally noticed a positive reaction to dog therapy.
“There are a couple students who have severe anxiety and behavior issues who have responded well to Sam with their demeanor and attitudes changing for the positive when they approach Sam,” Oritz said. “I have not had to send any students to the office, and I have only had Sam at school since the past week.”