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Dogs Do Big Things for the Mind

Erin Dougherty, Reporter

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Students once again received “pet therapy” thanks to the Counseling and Psychological Services Center’s program that brings the furry critters to campus twice per year to help students cope with exam pressure.

Students were able to sign up for an hour-long appointment to play, pet and cuddle furry friends. Betty Ann Duffy, assistant in the education department, and Ann Papalia, professor, volunteered to assist the CAPS Center and brought their certified therapy dogs Clancy, a six-year-old golden retriever, and Moses, a seven-year-old black lab, to campus to help students clear their minds.

Duffy said while the event marked the first time she brought dogs to campus for CAPS, she has plenty of experience visiting nursing homes. Clancy isn’t unfamiliar with campus because he is a regular in her Mercy Hall office.

“My co-workers are always thrilled to see him strutting down the hall or sitting by my desk – of course, always willing to accept a treat.”

Senior communications major Christa Porasky, who will graduate in December, said the dogs are a help.

“I know how stressed I am during midterms, especially during my last semester. They take your mind off of some of our everyday stressors and allow us the time to enjoy their playfulness,” Porasky said.

Curtis Wiseley, who works with CAPS, said the therapy dogs will continue to return for many years to come.

Wiseley said this was his first experience with the program. “It’s nice to witness the good turnout from the students, and that’s reinforcement and reassurance for us that the program is helpful and positive,” Wiseley said.

He added that students need to reserve appointments as soon as they become available because they fill quickly.

“Attendance today it’s a pretty good testament of how popular as well as helpful it is for students to have an opportunity to come in and interact with therapy dogs, just relax and sort of distress in the of midpoint of the semester.”

Wiseley appreciates the faculty who volunteer with their dogs both on and off campus.

“What a beneficial contribution it is of faculty and staff that have brought the dogs in. This is all totally volunteer and we are very grateful that we can offer it to the students.”

Papalia and Duffy said it takes the pups a few weeks to meet the requirements needed for be qualified as therapy dogs. The dogs must be at least one year old and demonstrate generally good obedience. Once they become certified, they remain at home with their owners and continue to improve upon their skills. The dogs are encouraged to be around people so they act naturally and aren’t hesitant or overwhelmed when they receive attention and petting.

They added, however, that a therapy dog isn’t required to have as much training as a service dog. Clancy and Moses were trained by Therapy Dogs the basement at Boscov’s Department Store in Wilkes-Barre. Papalia is a dog evaluator, which means she ensures dogs perform required services, which in this case is to love and comfort people.

“Part of it is temperament, that they’re just good dogs and they like people. If you put them in a room with people, they will make a connection on their own. The other part is having good obedience. They have to know basic commands, sit and stay. The dogs are kind of born and trained for the purpose of becoming a therapy or service dog,” Papalia said.

She explained that while service dogs work for a person with a disability to help mediate the functional limitation, therapy dogs provide social interaction and enjoyment. “It’s a sometimes confusing but [it’s a] certain distinction,” she said.

Although Therapy Dogs International has moved from Boscov’s, a local chapter of volunteer trainers still exists in Wilkes-Barre, working to grow this program.

Duffy said Clancy likes the energy of younger people and shows more affection with them than he does when visiting nursing homes.

“He acts differently around different people and they all love him. It just makes them happy.”

Sam Allen, junior English and communications double major, said she finds it a relief when she hears that the dogs are coming to campus.

“I currently live on campus and having a new puppy at home it’s hard to lose that connection. They certainly do relax and bring joy to my life when it’s the most stressful, and being a double major, I definitely have my fair share of stress during midterms.”

Clancy posed for many photo ops, turning his head and posing with his paw in a student’s hand or giving kisses.

“It’s really very humbling to be on the other end of the leash. He [Moses] is interacting with the people; we aren’t,” Papalia said.

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Dogs Do Big Things for the Mind