Therapy dogs offer fun and relaxing distraction for students

Therapy dogs offer fun and relaxing distraction for students

As soon as Willow walked into the classroom at Luzerne County Community College's Pittston Center, Sarah Minella couldn't contain her excitement. The LCCC student quickly walked over, threw her arms around her new canine friend's neck, and gave her a hug. Minella sat on the floor next to the light-colored English lab, gently patting the dog on the head as Willow leaned in to soak up the affection.*

The therapy dog visit from Compassionate Canines of Dalton happens at the Pittston Center every fourth Monday of the month to give LCCC students a chance to relax in between classes.

"This gives the students at our center the chance to take a break from their studies and relax," said Samantha Patterson, director of the LCCC Pittston Center. "At our center, we offer activities like the therapy dog visit as a way to supplement our students' academic classes. Students learn better when they have activities like this, which is why we decided to offer therapy dogs."

Patterson contacted Compassionate Canines to set up the regularly scheduled visits for her students. Compassionate Canines was more than willing to accommodate the request because the non-profit was formed to provide happiness, healing, comfort, and compassion to those in the community, said Helenmae Newcomer of Compassionate Canines.

"Our teams enjoy providing a mood boost, a calming paw to hold, and comfort to those we visit," she said. "Since our inception, 33 therapy dog teams have been certified for therapy visits. In our first year, we have completed 77 visits in our community. We are always looking forward to meeting new friends, whether they are new therapy dog teams or community members."

Compassionate Canines began training their teams in their tailored training program in 2023. After training, their teams are then evaluated to see where they would be a good fit to visit, including schools, colleges, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and community events.

For the recent visit, Tracey Hall, a volunteer with Compassionate Canines, brought Willow and said the dog enjoys giving comfort to others.

"I like bringing Willow to places like Luzerne because she can provide comfort to the students," Hall said. "Sometimes it's just nice to be able to pet a dog like Willow and relax."

Leanne Pagnotti, another volunteer with Compassionate Canines, brought her dog, Amigo. As Minella petted the Bishon-Poodle mix dog, Amigo's tail swished from side to side.

"Oh, my goodness," Minella said as hugged the little dog. "I just love coming to the Pittston Center because of events like this."

Minella started taking classes at the Pittston Center and is now taking classes at LCCC's Joseph A. Paglianite Culinary Institute as part of the Culinary Arts program.

"One of the biggest reasons I came to LCCC's Pittston Center is because it's very accessible since I live close by," said Minella, who lives in Pittston. "I've had a lot of classes at this center, and everyone here has helped me a lot."

Minella said she also appreciates the supportive nature and small class sizes she experienced at the Pittston Center. Besides the Pittston Center, LCCC offers classes at its main campus in Nanticoke and six other centers throughout the region. The other centers include Berwick, Hazleton, Scranton, Shamokin, Watsontown and Wilkes-Barre.