History Behind Therapy Dog Visits
March 10, 2017
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Therapy dogs have been coming to the University of New Haven during midterms and finals for three years. The University first welcomed therapy dogs in 2015, when Dr. Charles Anderson took over as director of the Counseling Center.
“When I took over as director of the Counseling Center in the summer of 2015, I was looking for a way to bring the Counseling Center out of the basement and see if we could have a positive impact on the larger university community. My thought was to bring a group of dogs to campus for a larger event and see how the students liked it,” explained Anderson.
The first event took place in the Fall of 2015 and was entitled ‘Dogs in the Halls.” Initially, the goal was for the therapy dogs to be brought to the various residence halls on campus, but the event ended up taking place in the German Club during the reading days prior to finals.
“There was such a great turnout that we decided to make it a regular program. We chose the reading days before finals and around midterms as probably the highest stress times of the year for students,” Anderson said.
Anderson worked with therapy dogs throughout graduate school, and even apprenticed with a dog handler as a part-time job. His experience taught him how dogs could be used for therapeutic purpose, something he later explored further at the University.
“One of the things that has been great about being at UNH is how open the University has been to new ideas and to trying new things to benefit the students,” said Anderson when asked about the process of first bringing dogs to campus.
While there is some debate in the field of psychology about the use of therapy dogs and the usefulness of them, Anderson believes they can have a positive impact. “From my perspective as a psychologist, I can say that the research shows therapy dogs have a very positive impact on stress. Dogs are natural examples of “mindfulness” and “being in the moment” and have a great way of pulling students out of their heads and re-connecting them with themselves and with the unconditionally positive relationship that you get from a therapy dog,” he said.
The University of New Haven students provide evidence of this as well, as the events with therapy dogs are consistently large and crowded. Anderson worries they may be getting too crowded and students may be turning away because of the crowds. He encourages students to check back later if they think a crowd is too large the first time.
“I miss my dogs at home and it’s so nice to be able to cuddle up with a puppy to escape from stress for a short period of time,” said student Rebecca Santos.
Student Danielle Martzall had similar feelings about the dogs. “I love having the dogs come to campus because for the short time I’m with them I can forget about all of my upcoming tests and assignments. They’re able to relieve my stress for a little,” she said.
While the therapy dogs are typically focused around midterms and finals, they make appearances throughout the year. Dogs are brought in for various special events round campus, including the health fair and a veteran student picnic barbecue. Anderson is looking for student input on any other times they would like to see the dogs on campus.
“It’s truly a place to encounter the diversity of students on campus and provides a safe, enjoyable, friendly space and circumstance that’s naturally designed to bring people together over a common love for animals,” said Anderson about the whole experience.