EMU goes to the dogs

Bindi, the Therapaw therapy dog, visits with students at the Snow Health Center on EMU’s campus on Feb. 11, 2015.

Eastern Michigan University students took a moment to paws – er, pause – and de-stress with the help of a friendly furry friend as part of Wellness Woof Wednesday.

Bindi, an Australian Shepherd, along with her trainer, Barbara Reed, captivated a crowd of students at the Snow Health Center by performing tricks and spreading puppy love Wednesday evening. Bindi works with Therapaws, a Washtenaw County-based nonprofit organization of therapy dogs and their owners.

Attendees gathered around as Bindi did the “squirrel,” standing up on her hind legs and putting her paws up. When someone told her to “sleep,” she lay still on the floor. Each trick was rewarded with a treat – according to Reed, Bindi was encouraged by the promise of food.

“She’s a fast learner and very motivated by treats,” Reed said. “She can learn a trick in a couple of 20 minute sessions, reinforced frequently.”

According to Mayo Clinic, pet therapy can help people cope through illness and help relieve depression, anxiety and fatigue. Therapaws, which belongs to a national organization called Therapy Dogs Incorporated, works primarily in schools and health care centers to provide emotional and social support. The dogs are trained by their owners, who volunteer with the organization.

As for Bindi, she was adopted from the Humane Society about seven years ago and lives with Reed. She has had quite a bit of experience as a therapy dog.

“For years, we volunteered with Ele’s Place, a grieving children’s center where kids three to 18 go for group sessions with other kids who have all lost a parent, sibling or other important person,” Reed said. “We were available to kids who needed a bit of doggy love and understanding, kind of like today at EMU.”

Reed understands the need for canine affection, especially for college students who grew up with a family dog.

“When my daughter was in college in California, one of the hardest parts was missing her dog,” Reed said. “I wish an organization like ours had brought dogs onto her campus.”

Michael Scott, a freshman computer science major, was missing his golden retriever when he came to the event.

“I love animals, especially dogs,” Scott said. “I’m really going through a lot, and I need that love.”

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