Paw-sitive Change: A therapy dog brightens Staten Island Academy

Student Brian Chan sitting on a step with Tigger, the schools therapy dog, at Staten Island Academy
Tigger is undoubtedly the main attraction of the schoolground, Brian Chan writes.

This article is one of the winning submissions from the New York Post Scholars Contest, presented by Command Education.

In the midst of New York’s 2024 winter, Staten Island Academy students scuffle through campus snow, making their way from the auditorium to their 8 a.m. classes. However, one member of the Academy sticks out from the masses. Instead of being wrapped in black puffer coats like his peers, he is adorned with a golden coat, fluffier and shorter than the students crowding him. His name: Tigger. His grade: canine. His study: student therapy.

A Goldendoodle at only half a year old in March, he is undoubtedly the main attraction of the schoolground, gathering swaths of kindergarteners and high school seniors alike, eager for the affection of a curious puppy. Goldendoodles, renowned for their friendly personality, intelligence and, most noticeably, cuteness, serve as one of the best dog breeds for easing students’ anxieties and stresses.

Cared for by Dr. Crig, Staten Island Academy’s very own Head of School, Tigger was eased into a school environment just shortly after he was born. He took his time adapting to the layout of the campus, ensuring that he would have no issue not only calming students, but shocking them with the presence of a new animal friend at school. His curly hair keeps him warm in the winter—as do the hugs of students and faculty alike—but worry not! In addition to adding to his charm, Tigger’s impeccable fur is low allergy, allowing him to be with human friends each and every season, regardless of allergies.

Tigger’s introduction into Staten Island Academy was not a one-person job, however. In fact, it was the fourth grade who, after interacting with outside therapy dogs visiting campus, cheered for a permanent therapy dog of their own. And for good reason.

Although the first words that might come out of a student’s mouth when meeting Tigger are “he’s so cute!” or “awwwww”, the Goldendoodle is certainly much more than what meets the eye. Across various studies published by the National Institutes of Health and the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, school therapy dogs are suggested to raise student health, easing moods, blood pressure and stress levels, while increasing dopamine and social skills.

Each morning and afternoon as students trek in and out of buildings, Tigger greets each visitor alike.

“Tigger is just adorable and energetic, he brightens everyone’s day,” a junior states. Students, alongside Tigger, establish relationships with him. They learn to respect his boundaries, understand body language and, most of all, adapt to his own wants and needs.

A busy worker, Tigger partakes in school activities just as much as the students themselves. He can be spotted sporting winter boots in the outdoor field, posing for photoshoots with Ms. Cortese, the Academy’s math teacher, or reading with the lower school (though his vocabulary may be limited). He has partied alongside middle schoolers at their dances and dressed up for special holidays, brandishing red clothes just this Lunar New Year. And when Tigger is simply absolutely exhausted from his work for the day, he frequents naps in the staff lounge.

Though Tigger spends much of his time in school doing the most a dog can, he is still learning himself, whether in or out of campus. Outside Staten Island Academy, he attends Puppy Kindergarten, training to be the utmost benefactor in his usual school. He trains consistently, graduating from classes himself. As just a puppy for now, Tigger has time to spend, strides to make and relationships to forge.

An 11th-grader at Staten Island Academy, Chan dreams of becoming a poet whose writing is a source of comfort and inspiration.