First Lady Justice introduces newest Friends With Paws therapy dogs at Nutter Fort Primary School and West Fairmont Middle School


First Lady Justice introduces newest Friends With Paws therapy dogs at Nutter Fort Primary School and West Fairmont Middle School
CHARLESTON, WV — First Lady Cathy Justice yesterday introduced West Virginia's newest therapy dogs through the Friends With Paws program at Nutter Fort Primary School and West Fairmont Middle School.

The therapy dogs were announced during assemblies celebrating their arrival. 
Eli, a male Golden Retriever, was placed at Nutter Fort Primary School. 
Opera, a female Labrador Retriever, was placed at West Fairmont Middle School.
“Eli and Opera will be a tremendous addition to both Nutter Fort Primary and West Fairmont Middle,” First Lady Cathy Justice said. “We have been able to see firsthand what these therapy dogs are capable of, and the benefits are beautiful to witness. Whether it be better reading skills, increased attendance rates, or an overall morale boost for the students and faculty, these dogs are here to help.”
The Friends With Paws program places certified therapy dogs in several schools across the state, providing companionship and comfort for students needing a boost. As of yesterday, 25 Friends With Paws therapy dogs have been placed across the state.
Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide comfort and support to people in various tense environments. They can help people feel at ease, improve their mood, relieve anxiety, and remove social barriers. Therapy dogs are highly trained and certified to show their ability to work in stressful environments, ignore distractions, and provide therapy to people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances.

"Nutter Fort Primary is happy to welcome our therapy dog, Eli," says Principal of Nutter Fort Primary School, Jennifer Oliverio. "He will provide joy, comfort, and smiles to our students, staff, and community. We are grateful to add this amazing resource to our school. Thank you, Communities in Schools and Friends with Paws."

Diversified Energy, an independent energy company that focuses on sustainable energy production, transportation, and well retirement in West Virginia, extended its support by helping sponsor the placement of Eli to Nutter Fort Primary. Recognizing the profound impact of therapy animals on students' emotional well-being and academic success, Diversified Energy's generous contribution of $5,000 underscores their commitment to fostering a nurturing and supportive learning environment. Friends With Paws is immensely grateful for Diversified Energy's commitment to enhancing the educational experience at Nutter Fort Primary School.

"Harrison County is important to Diversified, and we're proud to do our small part in giving back to the community that many of our employees call home. First Lady Justice has done great work supporting education and youth across West Virginia, and we're honored to join her in welcoming Eli to Nutter Fort Primary, where he'll help support a positive learning environment," said Diversified Energy CEO and Harrison County Native Rusty Hutson Jr.

Following the assemblies, students, and staff had the chance to greet Eli and Opera.
"West Fairmont Middle School has endeavored for a therapy animal for many years as we know what a wonderful opportunity this has proven to be for other schools throughout West Virginia," Principal June Haught of West Fairmont Middle School said. "Opera will provide a unique form of therapy to our students who struggle with various issues, including anxiety and depression, while also providing a friendly face for all faculty, staff, students, and community members to enjoy. We are excited to welcome Opera into our Cub family!"

WVU Medicine has also extended its support of the Friends With Paws program by helping sponsor Opera at West Fairmont Middle. Their generous contribution of $5,000 shows their recognition of the program's importance in our West Virginia CIS Schools.

"Therapy dogs provide so much comfort and support, and I believe they can make a real difference in students' lives," said Aaron Yanuzo, WVU Medicine Fairmont Medical Center's Chief Operations Officer. "Studies have shown that interacting with therapy dogs can reduce stress, anxiety, and loneliness and improve academic performance. I hope this donation will help create a more positive and welcoming learning environment for all West Fairmont Middle School students."
The Friends With Paws program is a partnership between the Governor’s Office, the West Virginia Communities In Schools (CIS) Nonprofit, and the West Virginia Department of Education. Therapy dogs are placed in schools within CIS counties where students are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance misuse, or other at-risk situations and are in the greatest need of a support animal. The dogs serve as a healthy and friendly outlet for these students to address trauma and other social-emotional issues.

Schools that previously received therapy dogs through the Friends With Paws program include:
  • Coal, a male Black Labrador, at Welch Elementary, McDowell County.
  • Foster, a male Golden Labradoodle, at Buckhannon Academy Elementary, Upshur County.
  • Jasper, a female Yellow Labrador, at Lewis County High School, Lewis County.
  • River, a male Yellow Labrador, at Pineville Elementary School, Wyoming County.
  • Shadow, a male Black Labrador, at Moorefield Elementary School, Hardy County.
  • Jet, a male Yellow Labrador, at Spring Mills High School, Berkeley County.
  • Kylo, a male Black Labrador, at Lenore PK-8 School, Mingo County
  • Winnie, a female Copper Labradoodle, at Wayne Elementary School, Wayne County.
  • Kasha, a female Yellow Labrador, at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, Pocahontas County.
  • Marshal, a male Cream Labradoodle, at Hinton Area Elementary School, Summers County.
  • Louie, a male Yellow Labrador, at Bridgeview Elementary School, Kanawha County.
  • Oakley, a male Copper Labradoodle, at Oakvale Elementary School, Mercer County.
  • Ruby, a female Golden Retriever, at Greenbrier East High School, Greenbrier County.
  • Malfoy, a male Yellow Labrador, at Chapmanville Intermediate School, Logan County.
  • Tora, a female Yellow Labrador, at Elkins High School, Randolph County.
  • Skye, a female Brown Labradoodle, at Berkeley Springs High School, Morgan County.
  • Penny, a female Yellow Labrador, at Pendleton County Middle/High School, Pendleton County.
  • Nutter, a male Brown Labrador, at Ravenswood High School, Jackson County. 
  • Meadow, a female Yellow Labrador, at Washington Lands Elementary School, Marshall County.
  • Clara, a female Golden Retriever, at Brooke Middle School, Brooke County.
  • Parker, a male Golden Retriever, at Wheeling Park High School, Ohio County.
  • Pixie, a female Apricot Labradoodle, at Lewisburg Elementary School, Greenbrier County.
  • Captain, a male Golden Retriever, at Sherman High School, Boone County. 
More information about Friends With Paws can be found in Communities In Schools: Friends With Paws, a documentary produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Click HERE to view the documentary.
A 2019 study published by the National Institute of Health found that a dog’s presence in the classroom promotes a positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body.
In addition, research shows that the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Therapy animals’ lower anxiety and help people relax, provide comfort, reduce loneliness, and increase mental stimulation. They are also shown to lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health, reduce the number of medications some people need, help control breathing in those with anxiety, and diminish overall physical pain, among other profound benefits.

Contact Information

CJ Harvey,; Rachael Harper,


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