Therapy dogs are a growing trend on college campuses. As much as it hurts to leave parents and high school friends behind for dorm life, it can also hurt to leave furry family members They provide comfort and reassurance and a sense of home that is often missing on campus. Therapy dogs, also known as comfort dogs, seek to fill this void on campus. The dogs are brought in during emergency situations to help ease difficult emotions, as well as during mental health screenings and finals week. The dogs may not be able to solve the student’s problems, but they help them cope.
The Dog Tag Art team stopped by the University of North Carolina at Asheville during finals week to meet the visiting therapy dogs and their humans. We got to know some incredibly sweet dogs and people. Students came into the library and immediately deposited themselves on the floor in front of a dog. It didn’t even seem to be a question of whether or not they wanted to pet the dogs, just an unequivocal yes. Many of the students told us that they have furry best friends at home who they miss.
Some of the quieter students seemed to gravitate to Athena, a nine year old golden retriever. She and her human, Sandra Doyle, have been coming to campus for a while.. She said that one year a young man walked up, on the phone, and she relayed that he sounded upset but then she heard him say into the phone “It’s okay now mom, the dogs are here.” Another student one year cried while they cuddled with the therapy dogs. And once a student was loving Athena and Sandra asked when his exams were over and he told her they had ended a week ago but that he had stayed on campus to see the dogs.
“...he sounded upset but then she heard him say into the phone ‘It’s okay now mom, the dogs are here.’”
Kendra Mullert who organizes the event noted that often the same students show up each time the therapy dogs come to campus. She said it is interesting to see students who are often very quiet and socially reserved sit and talk to the handlers and the dogs. The dogs offer them a way to connect.
These programs highlight how much comfort, relief and love we get from our four legged best friends. Relationships with our dogs support mental health and well being. One of the handlers mentioned that she thought part of the comfort of the dogs was simply physical contact, especially for freshmen who come to college and are used to being at home and getting hugs. The therapy dogs offer pure dog love to the students, and that is exactly what they need.