Harper shakes Greely High School secretary Joanna Foster’s hand during a visit this week. A treat for the dog soon followed. Sydney Richelieu / The Forecaster

Harper is Greely High School’s official “joy maker.” Energetic and extremely social with tail wags for everyone she visits during the school day, the Labrador retriever is the school’s therapy dog.

She’s part of Greely’s animal-assisted education program, which health teacher Denise Allen started at the school 23 years ago. The goal of the program is to make students feel good so they’ll feel good about each other – and about learning.

Harper takes a break to cuddle with her handler, Greely High School health teacher Denise Allen. Sydney Richelieu / The Forecaster

“The program has always been about biochemistry and the neuroscience of joy,” Allen said. “The dog serves as positive reinforcement to academic learning.”

The program is based on the “Broaden and Build Theory” in psychology, which says that positive emotions encourage not only pro-social behavior but also “encourage exploration and academic engagement.” The presence of a therapy dog at school brings students happiness and motivates them to work hard, Allen said.

School can be a stressful place for some students and seeing Harper with her tail wagging can provide moments of joy and stress relief, she said. Visits with Harper are also used as a reward for some students. She can usually be found in Allen’s classroom, but Allen also walks Harper around the school throughout the day.

Spending time with Harper provides a great break in the school day, said junior Molly Mulligan.


“I really enjoy having her here,” Mulligan said. “It releases a lot of stress to go and hang with the dog.”

Harper will often visit classrooms unannounced, barreling through the door of her choosing. Social studies teacher and dog lover Jeff Masterson said he likes Harper’s visits as much as his students do.

Harper is like a partner in the classroom, Masterson said, because she makes students feel safe and comfortable.

“It’s been scientifically proven that when you pet a dog, it releases endorphins to make you feel better,” Masterson said.

Greely’s dog pays attention to staff members, too. A favorite part of her day is when she gets an apple or a banana from Assistant Principal Don Gray, Allen said.

The school was a pioneer in animal-assisted education when Allen launched the program in 2000. Since then, Allen has helped Falmouth High School and others incorporate the use of therapy dogs in their curriculum.


“It’s still quite novel here in Maine to have a facilities based dog rather than a visiting therapy dog,” Allen said. “Harper is a member of the staff.”

Harper is the third dog so far to participate in Greely’s program. Jasmine was the first, retiring in 2011. Next came Jade, from 2009-2019. Jade helped train Harper, who officially began in 2018.

Each dog has brought her own special talents, Allen said. A highly trained service dog, Jasmine was especially good with students in the life skills classroom. Jade had a knack for reading body language and knew how to bring comfort in stressful situations. Harper’s job, Allen said, is to be her silly and goofy self.

“Twenty-three of 30 years as an educator have been with a dog as my copilot,” Allen said. “It’s been great.”

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