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Summer For Success Pets

If, as artist Barbara Kruger argued, “our culture is saturated with irony whether we know it or not,” Michele Patestides’ “Healthy Ways to Manage Stress Class” was awash in irony.

While reviewing previous lessons Tuesday, her half-dozen Summer for Success students dutifully and thoughtfully answered questions. Yet, their hearts and minds were locked on a pair of guests at the head of the class awaiting their turn.

One guest enjoys kids. The other enjoys kibble.

Sensing she could now cut the stress of waiting with a knife, Patestides switched gears.

“Did you know that petting animals can bring down stress?”

Seems just talking about animals produces the same result — with an audience of expectant dog-lovers.

And today’s elective class in the Summer for Success program, a three-week immersive college experience for high schoolers who learn differently, was meant for fidophilles. Renee Snyder, a licensed massage therapist, had brought along the object of students’ affections, EZ, a former racing greyhound who now doubles as a therapy dog. Their job: a hands-on lesson in how canines help patients keep their cool.

“What do you guys think it is about animals that make people feel instantly less stressed?” Patestides asked, turning to the whiteboard ready to catch any qualities students pitched.

“They are very loving animals,” said Isabella Chavez. “Plus they can feel your energy and how you feel.”

Yes,” said Patestides, a learning Specialist and academic advisor at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., the first accredited college to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and high-functioning autism-spectrum disorders. “They’re in tune with our emotions.”

After a while, she turned over the class to Snyder.

Snyder explained greyhounds are used for sports racing at jai alai frontons in venues such as in South Florida. Racers often prematurely retire because of injuries. Injuries sidelined EZ. He broke a toe on his front hind paw, which was later removed.

“With him being a racing dog, do you know what they chase after?”

Joshua Goldston did.

“A rabbit.”

“Yes,” Snyder affirmed, “but it’s not real though.”

Students’ affection for was EZ was real enough.

Throughout the session, Snyder encouraged students to interact with EZ, petting, touching, and exploring his quadriceps, ribs and other parts of his anatomy.

Exercises that captivated an infatuated Savannah LaPorte.

With each opportunity, she loved on EZ.

A petting circle soon turned into an impromptu selfie session. Students broke out their cameras and their smiles to pose with EZ.

And there was Savannah, petting EZ some love.

“Hi buddy,” she whispered. “Hi.”

Summer for Success Pets