Schools are closed statewide due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Tricia Baker, co-founder of Attitudes in Reverse, has still been visiting six schools across New Jersey on a weekly basis—just virtually.

During lessons, students learn what therapy dogs are and why dogs make people smile.

“Different therapy dogs will be joining us each week, so the students are exposed to many different dogs of all breeds,” she said. “While petting dogs provides maximum destressing to humans, the simple act of looking at a dog releases oxytocin, a feel-good brain chemical. That is our main focus for these virtual visits: hoping to help students smile.”

Tricia Baker of Attitudes in Reverse has been conducting virtual therapy dog visits with schools throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students also learn the safety rules to follow when meeting therapy dogs and the type of schooling and testing dogs need to complete to become certified.

“The students enjoy discovering that dogs have to go to school just like the students,” Baker said.

The virtual platform for AIR therapy dog visits was inspired by the inability to meet with students in person due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The dogs have a natural talent for breaking down barriers to communication,” Baker said. “At every presentation, between 6 and 17 percent of students speak up about their mental health struggles or concern about friends. The dogs also attract many visitors to our exhibit table at conferences and other events.”

“Thanks so much! We’re excited to build off of this!” said Justin Dolcimascolo, a teacher at Grover Middle School in the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District, following a virtual visits.

“All of us at AIR look forward to presenting at schools again,” Baker said. “In the meantime, we are glad to have the technology to reach out to students, as well as adults, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has created or compounded mental health issues for many people, which could lead to increased risk of suicide.”