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December 2, 2022
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To ease back-to-school blues, therapy dogs pay visit to high school

Students organize event at Los Gatos High

Emotional support dogs from the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department and the nonprofit Canine Companions joined high schoolers for lunch on Los Gatos High School’s front lawn, Aug. 24.

Organizer Esha Bagora, a junior at the school, said the idea was to provide stress relief for students now that the pressures of school are back on.

“I think it went really great,” she said. “I’m so happy we were able to get the dogs on campus.”

This was the result of work by the Teen Wellness Subcommittee of the Los Gatos Youth Commission, police officials and local volunteers.

Canine Companions, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit with a 90% rating on charitynavigator.org, provided the majority of dogs. Two dogs were recruited for the mission from the local police force.

Bob Buxton, who sponsored the event with his wife Susan, said the noon gathering of canines and humans exceeded his expectations.

“Kids and puppies,” he said. “It’s just terrific.”

The last time they got to do something like this was back in March 2020 during finals week, he recalled.

Jeanette Kaliska was there with her 3-year-old black lab named Fiji.

She says Fiji, from Canine Companions, plays an instrumental role in helping her navigate the world while living with Type 2 spinal muscular atrophy.

“She makes my life so much easier,” she said. “If I can give back in any way I will.”

It was wonderful to see how much the students enjoyed interacting with her working pet, Kaliska added.

“I felt my dog was in nirvana,” she said. “She loves to cuddle and snuggle with everybody.”

Kaliska says Fiji doesn’t just provide a mood boost.

“My dog is my independence,” she said, noting she even has cool abilities like giving her credit card to a store clerk and carrying groceries inside the house. “I can teach her the commands.”

Assistant Principal Alli Stits called the event a success.

“There’s one kid who ran past me who exclaimed, ‘I’ve been waiting for this all day!’” she said, adding it also turned into an educational experience. “Kids had some really good questions.”

Police Chief Jamie Field said, from her perspective, the event was an excellent “icebreaker” to help build trust with younger Los Gatans using cute animals.

“They open up conversations,” she said, adding it could be the first time a student has an interaction with an officer. “They build a relationship with someone in the police department.

“I think it went really well.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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