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School of Arts and Sciences

Therapy Dogs Provide Comfort and Affection to Tufts Students During Exams

Friday, September 26, 2014

Emily Zhang (A16), Riley Aronson (A17), and Kathleen Schmidt (A17), take a break from studying for finals to play with Ben E, a therapy dog, at Tisch Library

Student with Therapy Dog
Ben E, a therapy dog, helps students take a study break at Tisch Library. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

It was insanely fabulous," says Laurie Sabol, Tisch Library Instruction Coordinator, of the crowd of students who showed up on Friday, December 13 to play with four dogs, brought in to help students de-stress during exam week. "We thought twenty or thirty students would show up and instead we had over 200," said Megan Kiely Mueller, A08, G10, G13, Research Assistant Professor at Tufts' Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, who coordinated with Sabol on the project.

The dogs—Jett, Penn, Sophie and Ben E.—are part of Paws for People, the Cummings School affiliate of Pet Partners, a national organization that registers therapy animals.

Among the faculty and staff from both campuses who joined the students, were Cummings faculty advisor Lisa Freeman, who brought her dog, Penny, and Dr. Deb Linder, who supervises the Paws for People program at Cummings.

"The event showed how connected people are to animals," says Mueller. "For students at Tufts, there's a strong desire to see animals, pet them and talk to them. Many students miss their dogs at home. It's a huge part of their daily lives that doesn't exist at school."

Sophie,a therapy dog, helps students take a study break. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

"We had students who said they'd been waiting all day for this," says Sabol. "They knew at 4:30 pm they could take break and see the dogs." Although therapy dogs have visited students at Tufts' dorms in the past during finals week, adds Sabol, the library was a perfect place for the event as so many students are already on site during final exams.

Sabol contacted Mueller about a collaboration between Paws for People and the Tisch Library after hearing about a similar event at another university library, and reading about Mueller's research on human animal interaction in TuftsNow. Mueller's research focuses on how animals and people help each other and the ways human-animal interactions molds healthy development in childhood and adolescence—from building character to community involvement to success in the classroom.

Megan K Mueller, Research Assistant Professor at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, brought her dog Jett to help students take a study break. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and comfort to people, and often visit hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Obedience is part of the training, but dogs are tested for their aptitude for therapy work. Says Mueller, "they They must be able to tolerate heavy, clumsy petting and abrupt noises."

Mueller owns one of the four therapy dogs, Jett, a black Labrador retriever mix. Jett just passed his therapy dog evaluation in November, and Mueller says he relished "having a couple hundred students there to greet him at the library—a dream come true."