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Healing Utah’s Teenagers: Mika the therapy dog helping at Murray High School

MURRAY — Anxiety, stress, depression, finals — teens face a lot in high school. But a therapy dog named Mika is helping at Murray High School.

“Throughout the year she comes in, and it just, it changes students,” says Kim Parkinson, a health education teacher at Murray High School and Mika’s owner and trainer.

Kim Parkinson with Mika

Mika is a golden lab, with a friendly, calming presence in the halls and classrooms.

“She comes to our health class, especially during our mental health unit, when we talk about stress, depression, suicide, and she just makes it more fun to be there,” said Parkinson.

Mika walks down the hall and students come right over. She finds students sitting alone at lunch and goes up to them. Parkinson says you can see the change in them.

“We had a student who had been suspended, and he was returning to school. He came walking in late to class, head down, sat down kind of grumpy. Mika stood up, walked over to him and put her head in his lap, and he totally changed,” said Parkinson.

A MHS student pets Mika

The dog’s presence helps students feel like they are not alone. One exercise is writing down struggles anonymously, and sharing them out loud.

“They all say, I had no idea there were others who feel just like me,” said Parkinson. “Every year, I have at least three students who say they have struggled with thoughts of suicide.”

Mika was trained through Pet Partners and Intermountain Therapy Animals. She has been a therpay dog for the past 5 years, and is 7 years old now.

“She loves it, she loves coming to school,” she said.

Parkinson says teens should share with teachers and parents any problems they see with their friends, because it is not a betrayal of trust, it is helping them get the help they need. She also recommends the SafeUT app as a way to reach out for help as well.