Therapy Dogs International provided students with stress release and distraction during finals week with the presence of a number of exceptionally good dogs. From Dec. 9 to 11, Therapy Dogs International and participating dog owners introduced students to three to four dogs, allowing students to pet and cuddle the dogs for as long as they felt they needed to before or after their finals.
“It puts me into a better mood so I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, I have a physics final that’s 30% of my grade at [1 p.m.] today, for example, [I’m thinking] look dogs! So my mind is going to get much more relaxed,” said science major Daniel Zuppo.
He was one of the many students who arrived to pet the dogs from Therapy Dogs International.
“They had little posters with pictures and I was like ‘Oh my god if a [Bernese Mountain Dog] is showing up I’m going to be there,’” Zuppo said. “It’s very calming for me, especially when I heard there was going to be a Bernese Mountain Dog. My next door neighbor has one of those and they’re a great breed.”
Klaus, a two-and-a-half-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog accompanied by owner Cheryl Clair, was one of the three dogs at the event.
“When I got Klaus, his personality was so special that I did obedience training, but I just knew he would be perfect, “ Clair said. “I took him to see a friend who was dying at a hospice unit because I knew he would be great. I got the dog on the bed and we could see [my friend’s] eyes change.”
Since becoming certified for therapy, Klaus visits the Abbington Warminster hospice every Tuesday, along with the Abbington Library where children read to him and the Abbington Warminster Hospital where he visits Alzheimer and stroke patients.
Students surrounded Klaus, a six-year-old Golden Retriever named Gala and other dogs at the event. Laughter and smiles were abundant as students listened to owners talk about their dogs, sharing stories about how they became involved with therapy work.
Gala has appeared on television – she has even made an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Her owner Valissa Willwerth said she became involved with Therapy Dogs International after originally acting as Willwerth’s agility competition partner.
“It’s a case of if they want to see her, she’s absolutely thrilled about seeing them but at the same time she also has enough training and has enough sensitivity that she senses when someone isn’t real comfortable,” Willwerth said. “So when we go to the hospital she can sense if somebody needs a little extra TLC.”
Klaus sprawled on the floor during the event, his legs stretched out, and interacted with many students who offered exclamations of praise. More than ten students at a time surrounded him, but the dog was always calm.
“They’re adorable,” Kate Sydnes, science major and one of the many students petting the dogs. “I have one [final] beginning tomorrow and continuing until Friday.”
For many students, spending time with the dogs relieved the stress many experience during finals week, providing students with a sense of comfort as they are reminded of going home for the holidays.
“I can definitely see it – people are leaving with a smile on their faces,” said Ann Mosher, Bibliographic Assistant at Paley Library and volunteer organizer of the event.
Therapy dogs are known to reduce stress hormone levels, blood pressure and to increase oxytocin levels, a hormone responsible for trust.
“I just sat down a couple of times with a few groups and said it makes you just want to go home doesn’t it?” Kathy Lehman, supervisor for the Circulation and Reserve Department at Paley Library who helped plan the event. “It makes you miss your dogs at home – everybody sort of agreed with me. I heard from another staff member that some of the students were tearful, but [they were] happy tears, so these animals are really remarkable.”
The Therapy Dogs International was considered a huge success by the faculty and staff at the library as well. Students can look forward to seeing them again during finals in May 2014, staff members said.
“ I think it was enormously successful,” Lehman said. “It was a great experience for the students, [and] It was a great experience for me. I had not had this much fun on the job before. A great experience for the rest of the staff, you know and the handlers and the dogs. It was just sheer joy for everyone, I think.”
Sarai Flores can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.