Rocky River Middle School Teacher Launches Therapy Dog Program

Three years ago, Rocky River Middle School fitness teacher Mark Harris and his wife Deborah added June, an eight-week-old Newfoundland, to their family. Little did they know June would change their lives – and the lives of many others.

“When we first got June, the breeder mentioned that Newfies are great as therapy dogs,” Harris said. “My wife and I thought that would be a fun and rewarding way to give back, plus June loves being around kids.”

June attended classes at Elite K-911 Dog Training & Behavior in North Ridgeville, and The Dog Class based in West Park. She was certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Pets Unlimited – a non-profit therapy pet organization based out of Baltimore – and has been working for more than a year at O’Neill Healthcare, a skilled nursing and assisted living facility in Fairview Park.

“Therapy Pets Unlimited’s mission of training is to ease grief, stress and loneliness through friendly pet visits,” Harris said. “We wanted that resource available to our middle school family.”

June recently started visiting RRMS, where she provides comfort to students experiencing school-related anxiety. The Harrises bring June to school once a week. In the morning she receives attention from larger groups of students, while in the afternoon smaller groups of students visit Harris’ office for time with June.

“A very shy student in eighth grade asked if she could sit with June as she worked on her health project,” Harris said. “She has already made an impact in just two visits.”

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