CHS emotional support dog brings comfort and joy to students


Christy Rinkevicz

CUDDLES: One of Jax’s signature moves is staying calm and allowing students to pet him when they need his support. He also will often instinctually lay at their feet when they meet with Rinkevicz to discuss their mental health.

The ability to sense emotions and know exactly how to help is a skill many humans might never master, but is one that most dogs are born with. 

Jax, a 10-month-old English Cream Golden Retriever, has this special ability. He is an emotional support dog working alongside social worker, Christy Rinkevicz, and is a prominent member of the Central High School family. He took over at the start of the school year after their old dog, Bear, retired. 

Jax is a dog born for social work. 

If you’ve seen him in action, you might find yourself questioning if he has a radar stuck inside his brain directly in tune with human emotions. Someone needs a friend by their side? Jax is there. A student needs to cheer up? Jax is there. They need to calm down? Jax is there, laying his head in their lap, focusing his big puppy dog eyes on theirs and staying still for as long as they need, providing arguably the best emotional support ever:

A dog’s love in the form of free cuddles. 

“Sometimes it’s better than anything else humans can do,” Rinkevicz said. “Just having a dog present.”

She recalls the day a student stepped into her office with tears running down his face. He refused to talk with anyone as he shuffled into the room, along the wall and slid down to sit on the floor, however, without missing a beat, Jax walked over and curled up directly in the student’s lap. 

He might not be able to talk, but Jax’s message at that moment was clear- ‘I’m here for you.’

The student lowered his head into Jax and pet him. It took a while, but he eventually calmed down enough to express his thoughts and emotions with Rinkevicz, who was then able to help the situation. Without Jax, she might not have accomplished this with such success. 

Both staff and students at CHS have witnessed the impact that Jax has on their building, but what’s crazy is that the same results are seen in schools all over. 

According to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, emotional support dogs in schools “offer comfort and cheer, help improve mental well-being and can help [students] feel less frightened.”

“The benefits of having a support dog in the building, as long as he’s trained and you have parameters, far outweigh any concerns,” Rinkevicz said. “It can create such a feeling of family and positive vibes throughout the building. We’ve only seen benefits from him being here.”

Jax was specially trained for socializing before coming to Central and because he is still a puppy, he continues to learn every day. The students he interacts with respect and understand Rinkevickz’s rules, such as not feeding him and asking to pet him, which makes it possible for Jax to continue to attend. 

School secretary, Gwen Lemkuil, sees the effect his presence has on those he interacts with. 

“It’s very nice having him around,” Lemkuil said. “Jax is just such a loving dog.”

Every morning through the window across from her desk, she watches the hallway connected to the front entrance, where Jax greets student after student with a wagging tail and contagious early morning energy. For many, this is their good thing to start the day right. 

“He’s a very kind dog,” sophomore Corbin Gundy said. “He’s very caring and fun. He loves to play.”

Gundy is one of several students involved in caring for Jax on a regular basis. He hangs out with him almost every morning, walking him around the school, playing with him and making sure he is all set to start the day. 

Senior Lizzy Robbins also helps out with Jax every morning. She’s in charge of clipping his nails. 

“Christy does a good job of making sure that all his needs are met and incorporating the kids into that,” Lemkuil said. “So Jax is not just Christy’s dog, he’s all of our dog. He’s part of the family.”

Although Jax hasn’t been around for long, his presence is already long-lasting. He provides love in the lives of those he interacts with and makes the space around him a better place. 

“I think that every building should have a dog,” Rinkevicz said. “I think most kids can benefit from having that in the building. He’s been a really good shining light in this COVID era, it’s been really nice to have something that makes people happy and brings joy.”