(Ramsey/ Allendale New Jersey, June 2015)

Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Bucknell, (along with many others colleges) have found a way alleviate the stress of final exams by utilizing dog therapy dog teams.  As of Tuesday, Northern Highlands joins the growing list of forward-thinking schools that are searching for unique, yet proven ways to show students alternative ways to handle stress.

Therapy dogs have been used for years to cheer up the sick and the elderly, but more and more schools are embracing the idea as a stress reliever as well as a way to engage students.  The bond between human and dogs has been studied for decades, and research has shown that this bond benefits overall mental, physical and emotional health.  They help lower blood pressure as well as stress levels. Studies also show excessive stress, like the kind students may experience during finals, impairs memory. An activity that relieves that stress even for a moment improves a student’s ability to retain what they are trying to learn. (

Kathy, along with Therapy Program Director Stacey Samela, has decades of experience training dogs for home, competition, as well as service dog capacity, and have developed a unique program that includes training well beyond “sit”, “down”,  “roll over” and “come”. Teams in training learn from mock-visiting scenarios, observing already registered teams on real life visits and learning specific skills to make visits more therapeutic, relevant and enjoyable.

All the teams in the program have completed online training and a team evaluation with the National Therapy Dog Organization, ‘Pet Partners’. Even after becoming an official registered and insured Therapy Dog team, members of the Kathy Santo Dog Training Program continue to train together to problem solve and learn new visiting skills in Stacey’s classes.

“The idea behind the program is to help the students put stressful times in perspective, to have some relief from it by hanging out with the dogs, and to understand that this stress is temporary – you’ll get through it.”, Santo stated early this morning just as the team was heading over to the high school, a few miles from her Ramsey, New Jersey Training Center.

Stacey Samela, program director, said,  “We’ve created programs for our therapy dogs at ECLC, Alpine Learning Center, The Forum School, Prospect Heights in Hackensack, The READ Program for Ramsey and Allendale library, and we even went to Newtown, CT in the aftermath of the school shootings.  The simple act of petting a dog has been proven to increase serotonin levels in humans.  So the idea to take the program into schools made perfect sense…why not give kids some positive avenues to stress relief? The dogs will be there to help students relax, laugh, and take a breather from the high-pressure exams.”image

And after their first visit on Monday, parents and teachers alike were thanking Kathy Santo (Best of Bergen Recipient), Stacey Samela (trainer and director of the school’s Therapy Dog Program), and all of the dog and handler teams for their skills and therapy dogs as a stress-relief mechanism for the students as they prepare and take final exams this last week of school.

“It’s been a great day at the high school”, her team reported via text messages, photos and even through FaceTime.  Students are having a lot of fun hanging out with the dogs, and their presence has been the cause of many smiles and laughter.  One student exclaimed: “This has been the best day ever!”  Another echoed “OMG, I soooo needed this”.  Samela said that the best part of her day was hearing students say that they were glad they got up early to come and hang out with the dogs.

Before the start of the first exam, a few students were sitting on the floor laughing and playing with a miniature poodle named Lucy and said “People are so high strung around finals….this is awesome.  I hope they do this more often.”  Clearly both Santo’s, Samela’s and principal Joe Ochino’s expectations have been well exceeded, as the teams have been invited back again for the remainder of finals week.

To find out more about the program, go to or contact Kathy Santo or Stacey Samela at 201-512-8316

Public Relations and Media Contact:
Brigitte Bloch
BSquared Public Relations