Middle schooler Aliyah Mouri said Finn regularly makes her day and seeing him in the morning starts her day off on a good note. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK β€” Westbrook Middle School has a new furry friend, a therapy dog named Finn, who has made an impact on students’ mental health, according to school officials.

The Westbrook Middle School therapy dog Finn, a 7-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever, loves belly scratches and seeing friends. Chance Viles / American Journal

The 7-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever who loves belly scratches started work in the school in May alongside both trainer and owner Laurie Wood, the school principal. Spending four days a week walking around the building and greeting students and staff, Wood said students have benefited from his presence.

“We started working on the policy to allow therapy dogs last year. Finn’s cohort is the entire school – teachers and staff can sign him out and take him to classrooms and he is there to greet our students in the morning,” Wood said.

Finn did not cost the school anything, as Wood bought and raised Finn on her own.

“Usually (he is used for) social support for a student but it sometimes is just recreation for him, if a class wants to have him go on a walk with them or play with a ball outside. He is always with an adult as well,” Wood said.

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “having a dog present in the classroom promotes a positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body.” The study said that therapy dogs can also reduce aggression and increase empathy and understanding.

“He’s so positive for the school, I know he makes my day,” head custodian Douglas Sawyer said.

Student Aliyah Mouri said Finn regularly makes her day, too.

“I see him for about 20 minutes a day and I like it a lot. I have a dog at home that is hurt, so when I see Finn I feel better and know my dog will be okay,” she said.

“The students love him, but if any didn’t want to be near him, he won’t bother them. He is a very relaxed dog,” Wood said.

Finn generally is a calming presence for students, who see him in the mornings or when a teacher has signed him out to bring him to class, but as he gets older he will be “able to work with larger groups,” Wood said.

“I think Finn has helped me a lot since he has shown up,” Mouri said.

Finn greets his good friend, head custodian Douglas Sawyer, early Monday morning. β€œHe is a great dog,” Sawyer said. Chance Viles / American Journal

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