Therapy dogs get a park to call their own, at Whippany school

PIONEER POOCH: Cali, the first therapy dog at the Calais School, at dog park dedication, April 30, 2021. Photo by Tyler Barth
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By Tyler Barth

Since the Calais School in Whippany began using therapy dogs in 2013, it’s seen a massive increase in good vibes and cute moments.

“There are too many things to list as to why I love animal-assisted intervention at Calais… I almost always see improvements in my students’ performance,” said Tiffany Shevchik, who coordinates the program at Calais, a K-12 school for youths with learning disabilities and behavioral and autism disorders.

Tiffany Shevchik of the Calais School, at the school’s new park for therapy dogs, April 30, 2021. Photo by Tyler Barth

“They are more motivated, more engaged, happier, and more communicative,” thanks to the dogs, she said of students there.

On Friday, the school rewarded its pretty pups with a small place to call their own. Funded by donations from a December fundraiser, the Calais Paw Park was opened to commemorate National Therapy Animal Day.

The first pup to join the crew was Cali, an adorable mutt owned by Casey Roerden, the Animal Assisted Interventions Program director and handler. Cali served the school for six years before retiring in 2019.

Today, there are four official therapy dogs: Dunkin, Gideon, Orbit and Mochi. Another, Bindi, is in training.

 Therapy dogs play in their new park, April 30, 2021. Video courtesy of the Calais School:

Calais School Executive Director David Leitner at ‘Paw Park’ ceremony, April 30, 2021. Photo by Tyler Barth

The dogs know when students are having stressful days, and are smart enough to answer basic questions with their noses. With beady eyes bright with excitement, and furry bodies ready to rub against their human friends, the pooches have helped students in-person (in-canine?) and virtually.

“Working with the dogs makes me feel happy. They’re so comforting to me when I feel stressed,” said Madison, a student at Calais.

The 10th-grader’s been helping teacher Susan Greenbaum train Mochi, who’s still a little new to the school.

Calais School Principal Principal John Cohr at ‘Paw Park’ ceremony, April 30, 2021. Photo by Tyler Barth

Nearly 20 students, teachers and administrators delivered testimonials —  some virtually — at Friday’s live-streamed ceremony.

Principal John Cohrs presided over a socially distanced ribbon-cutting, opening Mutt Alley to the dogs. And then it was back to school for students and teachers.

The stars of the day, the dogs, remained humble.  They sat through the speeches without saying a word.

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