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Governor and First Lady Justice introduce first Friends With Paws therapy dog in Pup Rally at Welch Elementary School

Students greet Coal; their school’s new male Black Labrador Retriever
WELCH, WV – Gov. Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice today visited Welch Elementary School in McDowell County for a “Pup Rally” to celebrate the arrival of the state’s first therapy dog through the new Friends With Paws program.

The dog introduced at today’s event is named Coal. He is a Black Labrador Retriever.
“We’re embarking on something really special,” Gov. Justice said. “Our amazing students are the reason for all of this. In this day and age, it can be pretty stressful to be a kid. But to have a little doggie like Coal at school, who loves everybody, all the time, it’s going to brighten our students’ spirits and warm their hearts like you can’t imagine.”
“This idea started when we visited a school that already had a therapy dog. The difference that it made in the lives of those students was incredible; absences went down, grades went up – it was just a great environment,” First Lady Justice said. “So I am delighted to introduce the very first dog in our Friends With Paws program and I thank you for welcoming Coal into your school. He is going to be your best friend, and will surely be a big part of your lives.”
Announced in March, the Friends With Paws program will place certified therapy dogs in several schools across the state, providing companionship and comfort for students in need of a boost.

Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort and support to people in various tense environments. They can help people feel at ease, improve their mood, relieve anxiety, and remove social barriers. Therapy dogs are highly trained and certified to show their ability to work in stressful environments, ignore distractions, and provide therapy to people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

After first being introduced at today’s event, Coal displayed several of his talents to the delight of students and West Virginia’s first family, including sitting, rolling over, and even giving out fist bumps.
In line with the event’s theme of being a Pup Rally, the Governor and First Lady Justice also brought along their own companion, Babydog, for the ceremony.

“I have someone here who wants to be Coal’s best friend,” Gov. Justice said as the pooches played together in the Welch Elementary School gymnasium.
Following the ceremony, students and staff had the chance to meet both Coal and Babydog.

The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, West Virginia Communities In Schools (CIS) Nonprofit, and the West Virginia Department of Education. Therapy dogs will be placed in schools within CIS counties where students are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance misuse, or other at-risk situations, and are in the greatest need of a support animal. The dogs will serve as a healthy and friendly outlet for these students to address trauma and other social-emotional issues.

More dogs will be placed in other CIS schools across West Virginia throughout the year, including schools in Upshur, Lewis, and Pocahontas counties.

Buckhannon Academy Elementary School in Upshur County will receive a male Golden Labradoodle named Foster. Lewis County High School in Lewis County will receive a female Yellow Lab named Jasper. Green Bank Elementary-Middle School in Pocahontas County will receive a male Yellow Lab named Jet.
Friends With Paws also plans to place a therapy dog in Hardy County later this summer. 

The initial goal of the program is to place a total of at least 10 dogs in West Virginia schools in 2022.

The therapy dogs will belong to each individual school and will become part of the community. 
A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in the classroom promotes positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body. 

In addition, research shows that the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Therapy animals lower anxiety and help people relax, provide comfort, reduce loneliness, and increase mental stimulation. They are also shown to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, reduce the amount of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety, and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.