The Calming Canine: FMS’s New Therapy Dog


Natalie Garson, Managing Editor

Farragut Middle School teacher Mr. Larry Cerretani’s first period class recently had a visitor: Harper, a therapy dog brought to the school through the nonprofit organization Paws for a Cause. The organization works in a variety of settings in order to accomplish their mission of helping “those in need of emotional support of any kind,” as their website states. “We are there to share a story, a smile, or to help a struggling child read or interact socially. We share the unconditional love and solace that our dogs give us everyday with anyone in need.”

Mr. Cerretani first heard about the organization through a student in his summer program who had a service pet. He got in contact with the organization in September, and his class has had multiple visits with the therapy dog since then.

The students love the dog and are learning a lot from this experience, according to Mr. Cerretani. “They love spending time with the dog, and they’ve even learned different skills, not just therapeutic benefits, like walking the dog and giving the dog a treat…. So they’re learning the dynamics of interacting with animals.” One goal is for the students to learn how to start brushing the dog, as brushing “has its own therapeutic benefits, like [its] calming nature.” 

Mr. Cerretani elaborated on the advantages of the dog for his students, saying “if a student is just having a difficult moment, the dog doesn’t have any judgment…Just spending a few minutes petting the dog in a quiet room has so many benefits, [as it can help you] self-regulate and bring you to a place where you are centered.” Additionally, the Paws for a Cause website states that therapy dogs can “help to engage the child in social interactions with others.”

Mr. Cerretani added that he has personal experiences with the calming nature of dogs, having had two canine friends as a kid. “If I [were] doing homework, I’d have one of my dogs just hang with me, and I felt a sense of calm.”

The dog has taken a school-wide tour, from the middle school front office to the business office, and Mr. Cerretani said that “the administrators have enjoyed petting the dogs,” which serves to underscore the support that he received from the district.

Nonetheless, logistical problems can be prevalent when looking to expand the program. There has been interest ranging from Hillside to the high school, but “it’s hard to find volunteers who could come in as regularly as people want…so it’s a lot of figuring out times and who’s available when.” Allergies might also prove to be a problem: it is easy to confirm that one class is allergy-free, but a bigger scale means more potential allergies, and not every therapy dog is hypoallergenic.

No matter the potential roadblocks, however, there has been a lot of interest in expanding the program. This is due, in no small part, to the success it has received in FMS so far.