Therapy dog comes to Revere for finals week

Charlie Messner, Podcast Editor

During finals week, a crowd of students are usually fawning over a black dog who is patiently sitting by the lunch tables, happy to brighten the days of test takers during high-pressure times.

Murphy is a nine-year-old Standard Schnauzer who has worked as a therapy dog at Akron Children’s Hospital for the past five years. During testing days, he visits the school to offer stressed students a brain break between exams.

Megan Riley, one of Murphy’s guardians and a sophomore at RHS, explained how these visits came to be.

“My mom, [Betsy Riley], talked to the counselors a lot… When she heard that students are really struggling mentally with the amount of work they had to do, my mom felt they needed something to take their mind off it. So, because we have a therapy dog in the district, my mom thought it would be a good idea to bring him and just de-stress between finals,” she said.

He is a part of an area the counseling department and Active Minds will set up in the cafeteria to ease test anxiety. Counselor Emily Rion described what this area will look like.

“Every day, students will have the opportunity to grab a bite to eat–a breakfast bar, cookies, and maybe fruits as well as hot cocoa will be available every day for students. We will also have fidget stations where students will be able to have fidgets as well as Play-Doh,” Rion said.

Rion encourages students to visit the de-stress stations to calm themselves before an exam. They are open every day Revere has testing by the wall nearest to the auditorium.

“It should be a really great opportunity for students to just reset before the next test and kind of get their mind off some of the stress from midterms,” Rion said.

A stop at these stations can actually improve a student’s performance on exams.

“If you are focused more on how you’re feeling because of the different anxieties that are coming up from the exam, it can definitely make you not do as well, because you are not focused on what you already know,” Rion said.

Betsy Riley trained Murphy to be a therapy dog because she wanted to contribute to Akron Children’s Hospital’s cause.

“He was just always a good dog, and he had a great temperament as a puppy. When my youngest daughter was little, she was at the children’s hospital, and I said, ‘Gosh, it would be great to find a way to give back to the children’s hospital’. So when we got Murphy and he was just a really good dog I thought, ‘Oh, lets get him trained to be in the doggy brigade at Akron Children’s,’” She said.

Murphy was eventually certified as a therapy dog at age four, five years ago.

“There is really intensive training that has to be done—they have to do special commands like wait and sit and stay and heel…there’s a few years of training,” Riley said.

Betsy Riley herself was the one who led the training.

“When he was a puppy, it was stuff I reinforced, so like, staying and leaving toys and food. Crowd petting is a big part of the training. People come from all sides and he doesn’t snap or bite or attack, you know, he doesn’t get scared,” She said.

The high school isn’t the only place Murphy visits. He will occasionally accompany Betsy at her job at Bath. Additionally, Murphy and Betsy visit Akron Children’s Hospital about every other week.

“He has a certain location he goes to. Sometimes I go into patient rooms, and usually I go to adolescent age[d] kids that are in and out of the hospital a lot. But he loves being in the lobbies, where people check in to go to surgeries. He’s very social, so he really loves the waiting rooms and the central areas,” She said.

Megan’s mom explained how it helps the mood of the hospital.

“The kids love it. When they’re in the hospital, and they’re sick, sad, concerned and worried, sometimes having a dog there kind of takes their mind off why they are in the hospital. And sometimes it’s the parents. It’s the parents that need a break to distract them from what’s going on. It just puts a smile on their face,” She said.

Being able to relax is important in staying happy and healthy. Bringing joy to any place that attracts a lot of stress can spare someone from the number of side effects stress induces.

“Stress affects everybody at different times but specifically at testing time. If you’re stressed out, you’re not necessarily going to be thinking as clearly. Your focus isn’t necessarily going to be on that test or on whatever you’re trying to accomplish. Stress can mess with you physiologically as well. People get headaches, stomachaches, or their blood pressures go up,” Rion said.

Rion discussed why seeing a therapy dog, or any therapy animal, is so effective.

“It’s interesting, it’s not just dogs. There are actually quite a few studies that are out there in regards to therapy with animals in general. The way [animals] communicate is very different but at the same time very similar to the way humans communicate, and they are very perceptive to our feelings. For example, we have partnered with Hope Meadows, which is a farm that specializes in equestrian therapy… It helps calm down our central nervous system when we pet an animal. It helps with breathing, and it helps us focus and regroup,” Rion said.

Seeing Murphy helps Riley, too, both inside and outside of school.

“When I talk to my parents about stressful stuff… I get Murphy and pet him and talk at the same time. It just takes my mind off of anything stressful,” Riley said. 

During finals week, Murphy will be at the de-stress area of the cafeteria, and students are free to walk up and visit him at any time they have a break.