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Therapy dog assisting students at Castlewood High School

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CASTLEWOOD, Va. - High school can be hard, and not all of the stressors start at school. School counselors say often students can bring baggage from home to the classroom. Now, one counselor in Castlewood is taking a different approach by bringing his dog to school. Sherman has been through elementary, middle, and high school, and he's not even a student working toward a diploma. Instead, he is working. The 6-year-old Spaniel and Chocolate Lab mix is a certified therapy dog at Castlewood High School. He is under the care of his owner and trainer John Verderosa, who is also a guidance counselor at the school. Verderosa began training with Sherman more than three years ago to help students in crisis. Sherman visits several classrooms through the course of the day and is also there for student visits to school counselors. "He makes or helps to make a child feel better. That's his purpose, help to reduce the anxiety load the child may be experiencing," Verderosa said. Students like Tia Pennington visit Sherman daily as a way to cope. "People look at me like I'm crazy because I'm sitting there talking to him like he's my best friend," she said. Pennington just transferred to Castlewood as a senior and says she battles with social anxiety, but there's something about having a dog around that makes life a little bit easier. Pennington said, "He'll sit at my feet and put his head in my lap. I mean all two hours straight, just sit there." Pennington is not alone. The National Institute for Mental Health estimates more than 25 percent of 13 to 18 year olds show signs of a lifetime anxiety disorder. "Sometimes the child instead of speaking to me, will speak to the dog," Verderosa said. Sherman is certified by Therapy Dogs International. All dogs have to go through specific performance evaluations to ensure they can handle the job.

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