LAKEWOOD, Ohio — The stresses of life impact just about everyone, especially today’s teenagers. Lakewood High School has a special way of helping students handle the emotional roller coaster life can bring.
It comes in the form of a classmate, named Able, who very well may be the most popular – and furriest – "kid" to roam Lakewood’s halls.
Able is a therapy dog.
“At first I was a little scared because I’m not really a dog person,” said student Alicia Dinya. “When I found out, he wasn’t that bad, I started liking him.”
Able’s favorite spot to visit? No surprise: The lunch room.
“He just roams the entire cafeteria sometimes looking for snacks, but usually pets,” said teacher Julie May, who brings Able to school.
He’s a friend to all, and ready to lend an ear whenever needed.
“He’s so sweet,” said 11th grader Shantajah Davis. “When you’re upset or when someone’s sad or something, he knows.”
Adopted by May in 2012, Able is not her first therapy dog. A pup named Madison was accepted by the Lakewood School Board to be a therapy dog in 2013. She held that honor until a brain tumor took the beloved dog’s life in 2017. A memorial tree grows on the high school campus, planted in Madison’s honor.
Able now carries on the mission started by Madison.
“I’m so grateful that every day I can share the gift of Able,” May said. “I think he’s a very special dog. I’ve watched him befriend kids who are shy or scared, or if a kid’s having a bad day, he gets up and goes to sit next to them.”
Studies have shown that therapy dogs not only help ease anxiety, and lower blood pressure, but their effects on students have shown to improve attendance and even raise test scores.
For Shantajah, it’s simple.
“It feels really good to know that someone understands and feels how I feel,” she said.
More schools are starting to realize the benefit of therapy dogs. Just this week the Streetsboro School Board approved a therapy dog for the district’s middle school. Students there should start seeing a black Labrador retriever, named Piper, next school year.