ELKINS, W.Va. (WBOY) — Students at Elkins High School had the chance to get lots of hugs and kisses from their new four-legged member to kick off their homecoming festivities on Friday.
Members from the Office of West Virginia’s First Lady Cathy Justice introduced Tora, an 11-month-old Labrador Retriever that will serve as the high school’s official therapy dog.
Tora arrives as part of Friends with Paws, a program started by Gov. Jim Justice where schools can be awarded a therapy dog if they fit the criteria. In order to qualify, schools must be part of the West Virginia Communities in Schools program (CIS).
Hundreds of students at the “pup” rally welcomed Tora, which means tiger in Japanese, with open arms and big smiles. Randolph County is the 15th county in the state to get a therapy dog since the first dog was given in April 2022.
Tora was specially trained her whole young life to be a therapy dog by Ultimate Canine. Katie Morris, special assistant to West Virginia’s Frist Lady said, “We call this dog a tool, it’s not just a regular dog that is your pet but this is a dog that has been trained for its entire life to do this work inside of school.”
Morris said Tora is even trained to be in a room and able to identify a student with the most anxiety or who is struggling the most and put her paws up and give them a hug.
Tora’s Ultimate Canine trainer said the right dog for this job has to be happy, welcoming to all and good with loud noises. The trainer said Tora most likely will retire when she’s 10 years old or whenever she indicates she’s ready.
“She’s gonna be mobile about the school and just connecting with kids, attending all the events. We have four handlers that are trained to take care of her,” Mark Rosencrance, the Psych Coordinator at Elkins said. “We’ll just make sure that she’s where she needs to be and helping the kids that need the connection.”
Rosencrance said that the school applied to the Friends with Paws program a year ago and went through a variety of interviews and a vetting process and was awarded with Tora one year later.
“These therapy dogs are there for comfort they’re there for support they’re there for consistency they’re gonna be there every single day they’re gonna show up for the kids and comfort them and love them,” Morris said.
Morris also said the first lady’s wish is to bring a therapy dog to all 55 counties in the state. And the next county set to get a furry pal will be Morgan County.