ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A Winnebago County program designed to help during certain court cases has expanded its reach.

Students at a couple of Rockford high schools are now benefitting from pet therapy, with dogs helping to provide students with a way to cope with their stress.

Bruce Erickson, executive director of 17th Circuit Therapy Dog Volunteers Inc., said that playing with pets is a great way to improve their mood.

“Dogs actually make a person’s blood pressure go down,” Erickson said.

Local therapy dogs, like Remi and Daisy, have been making court a little less stressful for Winnebago County residents for years.

“She’s helped a lot of people in court that had to testify during very difficult hearings in front of abusers, and she’s helped them deliver their testimony,” said Jennifer Walker, assistant executive director of 17th Circuit Therapy Dog Volunteers Inc.

The program recently expanded to include area students dealing with tragedy. Dogs were brought into Rockford East High School earlier this year after football player Mason Hada died in a car crash.

When there was a shooting at Auburn High School in early January, some four-legged friends were on site just days later.

“You bring a dog involved, it helps them relax, it helps them gain their composure a little bit,” Erickson said. “We might spend twenty minutes, a half hour for one person, but if that helps them, then that’s what counts.”

All of the pets go through extensive training before they are allowed to help, according to Erickson. He said that the visits allow students to destress so they can can perform their best in school.

“That’s the reason they’re there, is to learn what they can,” Erickson said. “Our job is to make them comfortable, and I believe we’re doing exactly that.”

“The dogs are all well-behaved, so they don’t bring any extra stress. They bring some calm to everybody,” Walker said. “I like to see what the dogs can do for people. It’s amazing what just having this creature by you can do for you.”

Erickson said that, in total, there are 17 dogs and volunteers who take part in the program, and that some of the pets will visit Auburn once a week through the end of the school year.