Therapy dogs on campus make welcome surprise
No one could bring themselves to walk past little Mecko and his buddy, the bloodhound Blue, without petting, stroking, hugging or just grinning at the therapy dogs stationed in Decker Center to ease students’ acclimation to college life.
In Whiteford, the first-year women’s dorm, the story was much the same. Here, an ever-changing group of about a dozen students stroked Dizzy, a Chinese crested puff, and told stories of the pets they left behind.
Rondeidra Johnson, a first-year student from Washington, D.C., scooped the little white fur ball Dizzy up into her arms and smiled as she hugged the pup.
“I miss my cat, and this is like having a pet away from home,” she said, as Dizzy licked her cheeks and nose and lips.
Dizzy and the other canine campers from Lancaster, Pa.-based Keystone Pet-Enhanced Therapy Services (KPETS) visited campus twice a week during the month of September at the invitation of Susan Glore, director of McDaniel’s Wellness Center and assistant dean of Student Affairs.
Jan Knight, a McDaniel adjunct lecturer, and her canine friend Blue enjoy visiting with students.
The initial focus of the program was first-year students, although the pups in Decker Center attracted their share of sophomores, juniors and seniors too.
“The idea is to provide something students look forward to and something that can help with homesickness and overall comfort in a new environment,” Glore said. “Nothing is better than unconditional love!”
But homesickness didn’t seem to be at the top of anyone’s agenda.
“They just make me happy, and they definitely help brighten my mood,” said Clarissa Balint, a first-year student from Mount Rainer, Md., explaining that she has two cats but still likes dogs.
Sarah Fritz of Cherry Hill, N.J., talked about her two dogs – mutts whose lineage no one seems to be quite sure of.
“Those of us who grew up with pets aren’t used to being without dogs,” the first-year student said.
Therapy dogs, according to Mecko’s human companion, Wendi Mitzel, are being used in many different situations. They assist in physical and speech therapy, are used for behavior modification, visit nursing and senior centers and are often stationed in the children’s section of libraries for young readers to become more comfortable and relaxed in reading. Dizzy, who travels with human companion Laurie Walters, is on the road three to four times a week.