Therapy Dog Brings Comfort and Care to Calvert County Students


Katharyn MacDonald, Contributor

A mixed-breed rescue dog named Abby is making her debut in Calvert High School for ten weeks, helping referred students with various social/emotional learning needs. Self-awareness of emotions and self-regulated behavioral responses will be practiced with the dog present, as well as decision making, problem solving, and relationship skills. 

How did Abby get here? Her journey has been an impressive one. 

In 2018, when Abby was two years old, she was adopted by the family of PAC (Patuxent Appeal Campus) school social worker Mrs. Kimberly Repass. “We’ve only ever adopted our dogs from the Calvert County Humane Society,” said Mrs. Repass. “Rescue dogs hold a special spot in our hearts and have always been the most amazing animals for our family.” 

Animals with gentle and friendly traits have the potential to work very well with people in need emotionally. Mrs. Repass describes Abby’s personality as affectionate, mild-mannered, and sociable with a love for belly rubs and meeting new people. “In early 2022, I started the process to have Abby certified as a therapy dog,” she said. “I knew she would bring so much comfort, calm, and love to CCPS students.” 

After going through the processes of letters of recommendation and a medical clearance by her vet, Abby was on her way to becoming certified. 

Next came official training through the Calvert Dog Academy. Abby had private sessions with a trainer, someone she was familiar with through her volunteering at the Calvert Humane Society. Abby soared through her training, already knowing and obeying the necessary commands—without a treat! 

“She didn’t require a significant amount of training… she is naturally attuned to the emotions of the humans surrounding her,” said Mrs. Repass. 

Other skills therapy dogs should possess include keeping calm when left alone with an unfamiliar person or touched in sensitive areas, as well as not reacting to other dogs nearby. “In all of the research I have done on therapy dogs, the number one characteristic to look for is their temperament, and Abby checks that box,” said Mrs. Repass. 

In order for Abby to practice with groups of unfamiliar people, Calvert Dog Academy identified dog-friendly establishments within the county for them to visit. These locations included Joann Fabrics, Wentworth Nursery, Petco, and others. “This was very beneficial for Abby to practice greeting and interacting with people outside of our household,” said Mrs. Repass. 

Considering her success, Abby was highly qualified for the job. The friendly dog passed with flying colors and was officially certified by the national organization ‘Alliance of Therapy Dogs’ on April 12 of this year. 

Now, she’s part of a newly expanded program within Calvert County Public Schools. This program started out as a partnership between PAC and the organization ‘Pets on Wheels of Southern Maryland,’ which visits public places, such as libraries and nursing homes, with certified therapy animals. Now, Abby and Mrs. Repass are hosting animal-assisted therapy sessions at Calvert High School, Dowell Elementary School, and PAC for their first year. 

“I’m hopeful that this program will continue to expand throughout our county,” said Mrs. Repass. She is currently working with Calvert Dog Academy to develop therapy dog teams and partnerships across Calvert County, supporting first responders and individuals with mental health diagnoses as well as K-12 students.