Recent statistics show canines are capable of more than companionship. Dogs, ‘man’s best friend’, are becoming therapy animals capable of helping their owners who struggle with different physical and mental conditions.
Rachelle Goodin, the administrative assistant for the counseling center at Oklahoma Christian University, is the owner of Starla, a black Labrador retriever, soon to be used as a therapy dog for the on-campus counseling center.
“She will be here so that students can come by any time and just love on her,” Goodin said. “Hopefully she will get to the point where she can sit back in a counseling session with just Sheldon and a student so that she can help reduce their anxiety and get them thinking outside of themselves for a little bit.”
Goodin said after her family lost a dog, they researched dogs with Lab Rescue, a non-profit organization placing homeless and abandoned Labrador Retrievers in homes. After they visited Starla, Goodin said they knew she was the perfect fit for the family.
“If you go and look at animals, a lot of times their foster parent or the people at the pound can tell an animal’s disposition,” Goodin said. “We’ve only had her since December, and she is real calm. I had talked to her foster mom and she felt like [Starla] would be the perfect fit.”
Director of Counseling Sheldon Adkins said the university is in the process of getting seven therapy dogs on campus for students to come and relax with.
“Right now Starla and Rachelle are going through an eight-week training to become certified,” Adkins said. “So all the dogs with the program will go through the training. It helps them to further become dogs that teach them how to have good manners, to be a good therapy dog. The kids need to feel like it’s a safe dog and a dog that is just there for them.”
Sophomore Bailey Williamson said she sees the benefits of having a therapy dog while still living in the dorms because of her personal therapy animal.
“Her name is Piper and she’s a sweetheart,” Williamson said. “I have a panic attack disorder, so basically my mind and my emotions just don’t match up most of the time. It’s the strangest thing. It came to the point where my anxiety really wasn’t that bad, but I kept having more and more panic attacks.”
Williamson said she never thought about getting a therapy dog before, but her mom suggested it for a long time and it ended up working out when she found Piper.
“My therapist actually wrote a prescription for me to go get a dog, so I just went to a shelter and found her,” Williamson said. “She’s just so laid back. I wouldn’t want to normally keep a dog in a dorm, but she gets to go out all the time and she does really well. People want to help, which is great, but there’s actually nothing to talk through with people, I just have to wait out the attack. But it’s nice, because that’s what she’s perfect for.”
Junior Katy Jennings lives in the on-campus apartments and is the owner of a therapy dog named Zuko, a Maltipoo. Although she said she has never been an animal person, once she met Zuko she knew he was her perfect match.
“I brought him to school because I suffer from anxiety and PTSD,” Jennings said. “My therapist said there are proven facts about animal therapy and she told me to look into it. A Maltipoo is a good dog to live in an apartment, and they are known for feeling.”
According to Jennings, the process to get Zuko approved as therapy animal on campus was simple. She said all she had to fill out a form and he was approved.
“Some positive things are that it’s really nice to have him to come home to, because in moments when I really need him, he just knows,” Jennings said. “On the negative side, it is a lot more responsibility than I thought it would be. Sometimes I feel bad when I have to leave him, and I feel bad that he doesn’t really have a yard.”