Having a ‘ruff’ day? Huntley’s therapy dogs have your back

Check out Huntley’s downstairs pods for some animal support.


A. Pozniak

Jette waits patiently in the P-Z pod for students to visit her.

By Amelia Pozniak

You walk down the hallway after your fourthp eriod class. In the chaos of it all, you notice a medium-sized ball of fur sitting obediently in the P-Z pod, staring up at their instructor and a small cookie. It catches you off guard; turns out, she is just one of Huntley High School therapy dogs, Jette Star Fire.

Jette, a 3-year-old Rough Collie, spent many of her days prior to COVID-19 working in a senior center. Since then, her owner Mary Bijacalone knew that Jette’s playful manner could help students who are adapting to their first full year back in school. Jette is new to visiting kids, but she appears to be a natural.

“You have to go to training [to become a therapy dog],” Bijacalone said. “They’re evaluated on temperament, noises, and machinery and equipment so that they can handle wheelchairs when visiting special needs kids.”

According to Bijacalone, she also has another Collie that specializes more in hospital work. Although Jette can tend to any kind of student, whether they are having a rough day or simply have a love for animals, her other pup focuses more on emotional work.

“[Since my dog passed away] I come here to get my “puppy fix” every once in a while,” senior Emily Goodman said.

Interaction with therapy dogs has been shown to reduce blood pressure, help manage pain, promote positive mood, and provide significant anti-stress effects on the body. Therapy dogs are often confused with emotional support animals, animals that provide therapeutic benefits to their owners.

Jette’s name was inspired by Marvel, as Marvel characters have spunky names like “Star Fire” that match with Jette’s spunky personality.

“She’s kind of a character,” Bijacalone said.

Jette wins over more than just the hearts of students and staff who meet her. Behind her big Collie coat and long snout, Jette possesses remarkable intelligence that won her five first-place titles at a recent agility competition.

Bijacalone and Jette are usually available in the A-G pod on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m.; however, if that is not a free period for you, you can meet Alison Kopfer and her Collie, Juno, on Fridays at 11:30 a.m. in H-O. Juno has won seven titles, and has a 10-month-old puppy related to Jette.

“These dogs make me feel better. They are so sweet and talented,” underclassman Anastasija Malicka said.

So next time you see a huge coat of black and white fur in the halls, or some playful woofs that Bjacalone refers to as “collie talk,” stop in to get your weekly “puppy fix.”