West Liberty-Salem elementary principal Aaron Hollar held an exciting, surprise staff meeting on Tuesday, September 14th .  Teachers, ParaPros and other elementary staff were invited to the courtyard after school where Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy owners and their dogs gave a special presentation on the work they do and have planned for our elementary.  

Karen Zeigler, who retired from WLS in 2019, volunteers her time with her dog Millie and was a surprise guest speaker during the presentation.  Zeigler spent 19 years of her teaching tenure at WL-S.  She shared that the idea of having a therapy dog really started after the school shooting.  She realized how impactful the dogs were to our students in that crisis situation.  When she retired, Millie was given to her and it all seemed to fall into place.  “I knew when I retired I wanted to give back to my community somehow,” Karen said.  “Serving with Millie and being able to volunteer at West Liberty-Salem brings everything full circle for me.”  Karen and Millie have been training October of 2020 and became a certified therapy dog team in June of 2021. They will begin volunteering with Best Friends Assisted Therapy at West Liberty-Salem and organizations throughout Champaign County. 

Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy have been educating and certifying  volunteers and their own dogs for animal assisted therapy nationally since 2006.  They serve in schools, retirement communities, veteran services, crisis intervention and people in need primarily in the Miami Valley.  The benefit and impact that pet assisted therapy has on both physical and mental healing is undeniable.  

Zeigler shared how special it will be to be back in the school volunteering where she spent so many wonderful years.   

The core of Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy is servitude and their reach is immeasurable in the communities they serve.  Each year they choose an organization or worthy cause to support.  Karen, who sits on the selection committee chose West Liberty-Salem elementary educators to be one of this year’s recipients.  They gave 39 teachers $50 cash to put towards their classroom and supplies, a personalized mug, kind words of encouragement, and of course, a visit with their dogs!  

West Liberty-Salem is excited to embark on this new adventure with Karen, Millie and Best Friends Pet Assisted Therapy, who will begin volunteering at WL-S this fall.  

“We are very much looking forward to Karen, Millie and all of their friends to visit with our staff and students in the future,” Aaron Hollar, shared.  As the principal of the elementary, he and his team work hard to make school a place that students are excited to be.  “We try to make school a fun, safe place for students to learn and having visits from this group will certainly help with that goal.  We are very thankful that there are volunteers like this in our community that want to help make the day better for our students!” 

Programs will include reading with Millie, teaching animal safety with young students, working with Guidance Counselor Matt Westfall, companionship, and serve in crisis situations when needed.