By Julia Penchuk
My father Richard Penchuk has a trained therapy dog named Josie, who has been volunteering at local schools, colleges, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes for the past three years.
A therapy dog is trained to provide therapeutic services such as soothe anxiety and depression. The benefits of pet therapy are overwhelming, and include reducing stress, improving physical health, providing companionship, and decreasing symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
To become a therapy dog Josie and my dad attended a 12-week program. Josie was trained at Bideawee, a local organization whose mission is to create and strengthen the human-animal bond through best-on-class lifesaving and compassionate care for pets and the people who love them.
“The moment I walk into a room with Josie, I can instantly feel the change in atmosphere,” Penchuk said. “You can walk over to the dog with a frown and you are guaranteed to leave with a smile.”
Connolly Elementary Reading Teacher Patricia Lucci started “Paws to Read,” where students get the opportunity to be in a comfortable setting and read to their nonjudgmental friend Josie.
“Our classes and hallways are buzzing with excitement on our Josie visit days,” Lucci said.
Even Connolly Elementary School Principal Bryce Klatsky feels that Josie helps him relieve tension on hectic school days. Additionally, he has seen how much “Paws to Read” has helped students grow.
“Students look forward to meeting Josie” Klatsky said. “I have seen many students who do not participate or are reluctant readers enthusiastically take the opportunity to be with Josie.”
Josie’s visits have helped the students after struggling the past few years with COVID-19 leading to many social, emotional and academic struggles. “Students have been so starved for positive socialization over the past few years,” Klatsky said. “Josie has been an asset in helping students learn to appropriately interact with animals and each other”
Every Friday, Josie also attends Jericho High School for pet therapy. Josie sits outside of the cafeteria offering unconditional love to the passing students. Everyone at Jericho High School knows Josie and loves to give her hugs, kisses and sometimes even treats.
“Seeing Josie at school is so relaxing,” Jericho High School Student Daniel Rosenthal said. “I always have something to stress over at school and getting to see Josie relieves some of that stress”.
Josie has also spent time at local universities like Hofstra, LIU Post and SUNY Old Westbury.
“The college students especially love it when Josie comes to visit,” Penchuk said. “They often tell me the thing they miss the most from home is their dog, so I love being able to give them the opportunity to relieve some stress and get some love with Josie.
Josie and Penchuk have brought so many smiles to people in the community with her infectious energy.
“We are very thankful Josie joined the Connolly family,” Klatsky said.