Wellness Woof: Therapy dogs bring relief to students

Stressed and overwhelmed, around 100 Eastern Michigan University students were given kisses and love by the friendly canines of Therapaws in the Snow Health Wellness Center Wednesday night.

Therapaws of Michigan, Inc. is a canine-assisted therapy program based in Ann Arbor that is dedicated to promoting and fostering the human-animal bond in therapeutic and educational settings.

Brought around midterms or finals to help reduce stress with students, this hasn’t been the first time therapy dogs visited the EMU campus. Seeing a need beyond midterms and finals, the Wellness Center and program coordinator, Eric Ward, created the Wellness Woof Wednesday program in partnership with Therapaws to extend and expand the service of the dogs to students.

“The Wellness Woof program offers to help students feel better and reduce stress, bring them to the Wellness Center to learn of resources and services in the department, and to offer students a fun activity to increase social wellness and an alcohol free environment,” said Ward.

With two dogs of his own, Ward, recognized how much his beagles have helped him feel better when he feels stressed or down.

Trained and certified to be sociable and docile, around eleven different dogs total from Therapaws came in to meet students. To name a few, some of the breeds in attendance were Golden Retrievers, a Corgi, an Australian Shepard and a Golden Doodle.

Stressed from studying, freshman occupational therapy major, Melissa Shear, attended to meet the dogs and relax.

“I love dogs,” she said. “I needed a de-stressor.”

With two shifts, one from 4-5:30 p.m. and the other 5:30-7 p.m., students swarmed the first floor of the center where at least 4-6 dogs were in 3 different rooms. Smiles and “awes” were everywhere as students walked through the doors to pet and hug a furry friend.

New and old therapy dogs were there with their owners to showcase not only their cuteness but tricks as well.

Josephine (Joey), a Golden Doodle, charmed the crowd with her “go to sleep” trick and paw shaking. Busy with a reading program with schools and libraries, visiting senior centers and the VA Ann Arbor hospital, Joey was adopted by Pam and Richard Hoose, and has her own Facebook page called Therapy Dogs Rock. She was certified in April and was trained due to her calm personality.

By Kelsey Hawkins-Johnson / The Eastern Echo

Jeff Findley was with his dog, Lavender, a nine-year-old Golden Retriever. A veteran therapy dog with seven years of experience, Lavender was recognized as a therapy dog by a family friend. She was excited to meet students and welcomed students to play and pet her.

At the end of the program, after getting fur on themselves and cuddling a warm body, students walked out with a feeling of support and less stress.

“I am definitely going back every week that they offer it,” said Shear. “It definitely relieved my stress.”

A popular and growing event on campus, last month the program received 257 participants and has averaged about 100 attendees each Wellness Woof Wednesday last year.

“We are on track to have 1000 participants and are very excited our campus community is embracing and engaging with us on this activity,” said Ward.

“I definitely believe the dogs can make a difference in our students,” he said.

For more information about the services of Therapaws visit http://www.therapaws.org/. Information about University Health Service can be found at http://www.emich.edu/uhs/. Information on Counseling and Psychological Services at EMU can be found at http://www.emich.edu/caps/.

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