CROWN POINT — Just as the papillon is sometimes called the butterfly dog, since papillon means butterfly in French, the tiny dog named Sawyer who visited Crown Point High School last week flitted about, cuddling with students.

The charming, silky white-haired, 8-pound papillon was affectionate, patient and proud as he performed small tricks for the teens.

Sawyer and his owner, Lynette Crafton, members of Therapy Dogs International, were among several dogs and their handlers who visited the school April 28 to give students "dog therapy" before taking critical and high-stress Advancement Placement tests this week.

The visit was made possible because of a presentation from members of the high school's student council regarding the benefits of students having dogs to pet before taking upcoming exams.

From the tiny papillon to bigger German shepherds and golden retrievers, eight self-assured dogs wandered around the school's wellness room, giving students an opportunity to come down and pet them during a break from class.

Crown Point High School junior Anne Brigham, who is a member of student council, and sponsor Colleen Fano, said they wanted to help kids de-stress before taking AP and final exams and bring a new experience to students.

"We received numerous positive comments and enthusiastic feedback. It was a success. Our students enjoyed it, and the room was full all day. Our student council worked with Jan Koulets from Therapy Dogs International to make this happen," Fano said.

Crown Point Assistant Principal Russell Marcinek said having the therapy dogs visit the high school was a student-driven idea. He said May is a busy month, and the school administers more than 1,700 advanced placement exams.

"Not only were our students able to come to the wellness room to see and pet the dogs, they learned about the role these dogs play in serving others. It was a nice experience and event for CPHS,” he said.

Calming presence

According to its website, Therapy Dogs International is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registering therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions.

Established in New Jersey in 1976, there are more than 24,750 dog/handler teams registered with TDI in all 50 states and Canada.

Crown Point High School senior Brandon Gargano said he visited the dogs, which came in hourly, three different times.

"There were several different dogs, and I'm a big fan of dogs even though I don't have any pets at home," he said.

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"It's nice to be able to come down here and see all the different dogs that are so willing to meet people and play with them. It makes me calm down especially with these AP tests we've got to take. I've got two tests; there are some people who have six."

Sophomore Jessica Bao said she hasn't been able to study as much as she'd like for an AP psychology test because of a sport and two other tough classes she's taking.

"It's making me a little stressed out. Having these dogs and being able to get out of class and look at them and play with them has been really nice," Bao said.

"I love dogs. Just being able to look at a dog makes me happy and seeing the dog happy affects me in a positive way."

Sophomore Grace Walker and her sister, freshman Samantha Walker, both said the dogs were a great way to de-stress.

Teens and dogs

Crafton said to belong to Therapy Dogs International, all the dogs must be tested by a certified TDI evaluator. A dog must be a minimum of 1 year old and have a sound temperament.

"I work with TDI, and I visit local hospitals and nursing homes," Crafton said.

"I have three papillons. I have another therapy dog, and he's more low-key and quiet than Sawyer is. I take him to hospitals. I take Sawyer to nursing homes because of his temperament. My other dog is pretty shy.

"Working with teenagers and dogs is my passion."

Crafton jokingly asked the teens who got passes from class just to play with the puppies and who really are stressed out. The answer was about half and half.

Crafton said seeing the teens smile and enjoy the experience was reward enough to participate in the program. 

"When I'm at the hospitals, and the patients say how interacting with the dog made them feel so much better, I get goose bumps on my arms," she said.


Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.