Eli, a 4-year-old border collie, started working as a therapy dog for Maspeth High School last week to help students with their mental health after a challenging year.
Right now, about 50 percent of Maspeth High School students are taking classes in the building throughout the week. Vice Principal Jesse Pachter said Eli will make the most impact when all students return to school in the fall.
“There’s a lot of social isolation,” Pachter said. “A lot of students who have shown they’re anxious, they’re feeling depressed, they’re feeling lonely, and we’re hoping that by coming back to school full-time next year and bringing Eli on board, will be a positive impact to help these students work through social and emotional problems.”
David Blauner works at Maspeth High School as a school counselor and has owned Eli for four years. Because of Eli’s temperament and age, Blauner thought he’d be the perfect support dog for the students.
Blauner and Eli were trained and certified through The Good Dog Foundation’s Comfort Dog Program, teaching the dog and handler to be a team in providing intervention in educational and therapeutic environments.
“I’m thinking about the ninth-grader that comes into our school in September, who has not been in a school building for 18 months, has not felt a positive connection with a trusted adult in their life outside of their family,” Blauner said. “Eli will assist in that.”
According to Blauner, of the over 60 dogs involved in this program, only four or five are in high schools.
“We have an opportunity to be a real leader for the city and for the program to show what kinds of interventions and what kinds of outcomes are going to be beneficial for a high school population,” Blauner said.
Eli comes into the school three times a week, assisting in building confidence, learning and socialization.
“We have students perform debates, and a lot of students get very nervous,” Pachter said. “So in order to alleviate some of their stress and worry, we bring Eli in where he would be partnered with a student or group of students experiencing anxiety.”
Maspeth High School had to go through an approval process that consisted of site visits by the Comfort Dog Program, ensuring the facility was adequate for the dog. After applying to the program in 2019, the school was approved just this month and Eli got to work.
This story was updated on Tuesday, June 1, at 9:54 a.m.