New York City students need comfort? In trots Petey the Shih Tzu

Aug 11 (Reuters) - When distressed students at Middle School 88 in Brooklyn end up in the principal's office, Petey Parker often totters over, tail wagging, to comfort them.

The rescued Shih Tzu mix is the darling of some 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him as he walks the corridors.

"He's like a guidance counselor but in a dog form," said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal's council t-shirt with an image of Petey's face printed on it.

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Petey the Shih Tzu comforts New York City students
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Petey the Shih Tzu comforts New York City students
The dog "Petey" at MS 88 middle school in the neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, U.S., August 10, 2017. When distressed students at MS 88 middle school in Brooklyn end up at the principal's office, Petey Parker often totters in, tail wagging, to comfort them. The rescued shih tzu mix is the darling of about 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him if they're having a bad day. "He's like a guidance counselor but in a dog form," said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal's council t-shirt with an image of Petey's face printed on it. Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of seven last year. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The dog "Petey" walks at MS 88 middle school in the neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, U.S., August 10, 2017. When distressed students at MS 88 middle school in Brooklyn end up at the principal's office, Petey Parker often totters in, tail wagging, to comfort them. The rescued shih tzu mix is the darling of about 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him if they're having a bad day. "He's like a guidance counselor but in a dog form," said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal's council t-shirt with an image of Petey's face printed on it. Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of seven last year. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Children share a moment with the dog "Petey" at MS 88 middle school in the neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, U.S., August 10, 2017. When distressed students at MS 88 middle school in Brooklyn end up at the principal's office, Petey Parker often totters in, tail wagging, to comfort them. The rescued shih tzu mix is the darling of about 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him if they're having a bad day. "He's like a guidance counselor but in a dog form," said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal's council t-shirt with an image of Petey's face printed on it. Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of seven last year. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The dog "Petey" at MS 88 middle school in the neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, U.S., August 10, 2017. When distressed students at MS 88 middle school in Brooklyn end up at the principal's office, Petey Parker often totters in, tail wagging, to comfort them. The rescued shih tzu mix is the darling of about 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him if they're having a bad day. "He's like a guidance counselor but in a dog form," said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal's council t-shirt with an image of Petey's face printed on it. Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of seven last year. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The dog "Petey" share a moment with children at MS 88 middle school in the neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, U.S., August 10, 2017. When distressed students at MS 88 middle school in Brooklyn end up at the principal's office, Petey Parker often totters in, tail wagging, to comfort them. The rescued shih tzu mix is the darling of about 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him if they're having a bad day. "He's like a guidance counselor but in a dog form," said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal's council t-shirt with an image of Petey's face printed on it. Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of seven last year. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Children pet the dog "Petey" at MS 88 middle school in the neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, U.S., August 10, 2017. When distressed students at MS 88 middle school in Brooklyn end up at the principal's office, Petey Parker often totters in, tail wagging, to comfort them. The rescued shih tzu mix is the darling of about 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him if they're having a bad day. "He's like a guidance counselor but in a dog form," said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal's council t-shirt with an image of Petey's face printed on it. Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of seven last year. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Children walk the dog "Petey" at MS 88 middle school in the neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York, U.S., August 10, 2017. When distressed students at MS 88 middle school in Brooklyn end up at the principal's office, Petey Parker often totters in, tail wagging, to comfort them. The rescued shih tzu mix is the darling of about 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him if they're having a bad day. "He's like a guidance counselor but in a dog form," said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal's council t-shirt with an image of Petey's face printed on it. Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of seven last year. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
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Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of just seven last year.

"It is amazing to me that one dog can bring empathy and serve as a comfort for close to 1,400 students," MS 88 Principal Ailene Altman Mitchell said. "He's king of this castle."

The initiative, led by Chancellor Carmen Fariña of the New York City Department of Education, brings rescue dogs into the classroom to promote social emotional learning.

New York City's Comfort Dog program is based on the Mutt-i-grees curriculum, which was developed by Yale researchers in partnership with North Shore Animal League America and aims to integrate rescue dogs into classroom lessons on empathy, resilience and conflict resolution.

"When a child is upset and a teacher calls me and I walk in with Jeter, the focus is immediately on the dog," said Toni Frear, counselor at Fenton Charter Academy in Los Angeles and owner of Jeter. "He's become my co-counselor."

Frear's school was one of the first in the country to implement the Mutt-i-grees curriculum and adopt a rescue dog in 2010.

Related: See more pups making a difference:

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Therapy dogs bring peace of mind at psychiatric center
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Therapy dogs bring peace of mind at psychiatric center
Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, falls asleep as it gets caressed by three patients at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Andres Garcia, 29, embraces Argi, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, as he relaxes at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Inaki Gorriz (L), 24, kisses social worker Irune Alchu, 31, as Andres Garcia (C), 29, walks hand in hand with nurse Andre Carricaburu, 24, while going for a walk with "Argi" and "Atila", trained therapeutic greyhounds used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Argi and Atila, trained therapeutic greyhounds used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, enter their home at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Argi, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, wears a coat made by patients as he waits to get something to eat at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
David Villanueva, 44, reacts as he caresses Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, in its bed at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Ramona Echeverria (L), 63, and Ion Albiz, 38, pet Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
David Villanueva, 44, poses with Argi, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. When asked what the greyhounds mean to him, he answered: "Care". REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Andres Garcia, 29, poses with Argi, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. When asked what the greyhounds mean to him, he answered: "Peace". REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Miren Martinez, 49, pets Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Andres Garcia (L), 29, and Inaki Gorriz, 24, pet Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, as their nurses and therapists look on at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Atila and Argi, trained therapeutic greyhounds used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, try to get the attention of Ion Albiz, 38, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera SEARCH "DOG THERAPY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
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The New York City schools chosen by the Department of Education for the Comfort Dog program will join over 4,000 schools across the United States and Canada that have implemented various versions of the Mutt-i-grees curriculum.

Not all schools have full-time classroom pets, but many bring in shelter pets or use images of dogs to teach social skills.

The impact that the daily presence of a dog can have on children's social and emotional skills lacks a quantitative research base. According to Matia Finn-Stevenson, a developer of the Mutt-i-grees curriculum at Yale, most of the scientific support for having dogs in schools is anecdotal.

Finn-Stevenson said that while more rigorous studies are being conducted on dogs' presence in schools, much like the case of therapy dogs, the practice is far ahead of the research.

The MS 88 principal said Petey has had particular effect on students with special needs and disabilities, including those in wheelchairs.

"They can't walk and they can't run down the halls but they can hug. And when Petey goes in your lap, magic happens," Mitchell said.

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