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Virtual Visits From Therapy Dogs

May 5, 2020

Tricia Baker, co-founder of Attitudes In Reverse, and her AIR therapy dogs Misha, left to right, Albie and Miki, hold a virtual visit with students at Community Middle School in the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District.PHOTO COURTESY OF ATTITUDES IN REVERSE

“You were seriously wonderful today! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for Zooming with my students. I know for sure that it brought so much joy to them and their families. The kids were so engaged and asked some wonderful questions. I really can’t thank you enough.”

Those words by Michelle Caravella, a teacher at Lakeside School in Edison, followed a recent virtual visit with therapy dogs from Attitudes In Reverse (AIR) with her students.

Tricia Baker, co-founder of AIR, has been virtually visiting six schools across New Jersey on a weekly basis. The students learn what therapy dogs are and why dogs make people smile.

“While petting dogs provides maximum de-stressing to humans, the simple act of looking at a dog releases oxytocin, a feel-good brain chemical. That is our main focus for these virtual visits: hoping to help students smile,” Baker said in the statement.

Students also learn the safety rules to follow when meeting therapy dogs and the type of schooling and testing dogs need to complete to become certified.

“The students enjoy discovering that dogs have to go to school just like the students,” Baker said.

The virtual platform for the AIR therapy dog visits was inspired by the inability to meet with students in person due to the coronavirus pandemic. AIR is also unique in having therapy dogs involved with every educational presentation and during community events.

“The dogs have a natural talent for breaking down barriers to communication. At every presentation, between 6 and 17% of students speak up about their mental health struggles or concern about friends. The dogs also attract many visitors to our exhibit table at conferences and other events.

“All of us at AIR look forward to presenting at schools again. In the meantime, we are glad to have the technology to reach out to students, as well as adults, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has created or compounded mental health issues for many people, which could lead to increased risk of suicide,” Baker said in the statement.

Attitudes In Reverse was established by Tricia, Kurt and Katelyn Baker of Plainsboro in 2010 after their son/brother Kenny died by suicide following a long battle against severe depression and anxiety. Their mission is to save lives by educating students about mental health, related disorders and suicide prevention. Since January 2011, they have presented to more than 90,000 students in middle and high schools and colleges in New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Missouri, Texas and Arizona. AIR also offers youth mental health first aid instruction and includes the AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds program, bringing dogs into schools to help students de-stress and engage in the conversation about mental health. In addition, AIR trains and certifies emotional support animals and offers a lunch-and-learn program for businesses.

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