We think of pets of all sorts as one of the family, but dogs have a special place at our side. However, have you ever thought of your dog as your therapist? Probably not, but dogs provide an incredible amount of structure and comfort.
Kathleen Adamle, tenured professor emerita at Kent State University's College of Nursing, started the trend of dog-as-therapist 11 years ago right here in Northeast Ohio. The journey began with Adamle's research on the relationship between human and canine. Her idea: "A pet therapy program could temporarily fill the absence of previous support systems and be a catalyst for establishing new social relationships."
Results supported her thesis, but getting the program off the ground was the next step. Red tape had to be navigated and standards had to be met, but "after one and a half years of explaining and re-explaining that all the dogs that are approved for my program had to be tested and pass the Pet Partners exam and/or Therapy Dogs International," Kent State University gave her the green light.
If you thought dogs-as-therapists was hyperbolic, think again. These animals have to be vetted. "No dogs on the Kent State campus (except police dogs and service dogs) are allowed in buildings unless they have been approved and accepted into my Pet Therapy team," Adamle says.
Since publishing her first article on the subject in the Journal of American College Health, establishing the program's legitimacy, and getting the stamp of approval from the college, Adamle's brainchild has become a 501(c)(3) organization called Dogs on Campus, the first of its kind in the country.
Adamle's work has not gone unnoticed.
Colleges across the country have followed her lead. "I received calls and emails from almost every college in the country asking how I could ever get such a program past the administration and the legal department." Nowadays, it isn't unusual to see an area of the college green roped off for students to reunite with man's best friend during high-stress finals season.
Over at Kent State University, Adamle continues to blaze the trail by deploying her dogs year 'round. You can find Dogs on Campus in Kent's libraries, residence halls, and special events. Dogs on Campus are even called on in emergency sitations.
One incredible story can be found on Dogs on Campus' website:
"Dogs on Campus volunteers were called to a residence hall after one of the residents committed suicide. [Eddye] White was in the hall with one of her therapy dogs, Jessie. The roommate of the student that [sic] committed suicide came out from her room and held Jessie. After the girl cried into Jessie for a few minutes, she looked up and inquired about the dog's name. White proceeded to tell her the dog's name was Jessie. The student began crying harder and stated that her roommate's name was also Jessie. After awhile, the student calmed down and seemed to be doing better."
If that doesn't touch your heart, we'll have to give Dogs on Campus a call.
In its 11 years, the Dogs on Campus' volunteers and dogs have served over 77,000 students, faculty and staff on Kent's regional campuses in Stark County, Ashtabula County and Trumbull County. "We will bring the dogs to whoever asks us to come, as long as it's on campus," said Adamle.
Let's have a round of applause for these unsung heroes.
Visit dogsoncampus.org for more information and to donate to keep these dogs working.