“Grace, go make a friend,” Becky Schroeder said as her two-year-old cocker spaniel-poodle mix crossed the circle of waiting Drake students to comfort someone new.
Through the combined efforts of Student Senate, the Residence Hall Association and Drake Counseling Services, therapy dogs will be visiting campus regularly to provide stress relief and comfort for students.
“We saw a need for a space for students to come together and destress with all of the chaos of finals season,” Health and Wellness Student Senator Breckyn Lyons said. “[We] saw pet therapy as a fantastic opportunity to do just that.”
Over 300 students attended the Finals Destressing event in December 2022. The event featured yoga and coloring as well, but the dogs were generally the highlight among students.
“There was a great amount of feedback that this is a resource students would like to have greater access to on a regular basis,” Lyons said.
The Counseling Center has added monthly pet therapy sessions to the list of services they provide. Student Senate and RHA will collaborate with them on larger events in time for midterms and finals.
The coordinators of the Finals Destressing event reached out to Dog Training Elite Des Moines to have four pets at the December event. Three pets were present at the Feb. 5 event, including Grace and her owner Becky Schroeder.
“[Grace is] super social. She [knows no strangers] and makes friends,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said Grace’s natural obedience and comforting qualities made her an ideal candidate for pet therapy training.
“She’s confident, so she’s not scared,” Schroeder said.
The year-long training process involves teaching dogs basic commands, such as sit and stay, but also training them to not react to everyday tasks such as dropping clothes on the floor or weaving around a wheelchair or a person on a ladder.
Schroeder said Grace was originally adopted as a “pandemic puppy” to keep her company while she worked from home, but the duo now visits nursing homes and a local Intensive Care Unit once every couple weeks to comfort families in their time of need.
First-year Maya Goren thinks Grace is great for comforting students as well and “relieving a lot of stress.”
The pet therapy event came at a much-needed time for many as the excitement of the new semester started wearing off and first exams and papers were coming due. Goren was grateful for the distraction the pets provided.
“I love their smiles,” she said. “I have a dog at home, so I wanted to reconnect with one since I live so far away.”
Goren said she thinks the best therapy dogs are those that are willing to be pet for a while, and the dogs from Dog Training Elite Des Moines did just that for an hour on a Sunday afternoon.
“I look forward to seeing how [future] events turnout and how they will evolve over time,” Lyons said.
For more information about Counseling Center services or Student Senate and RHA events, check out their respective Instagram pages. The next pet therapy event will be on March 5 from 1-3:30 p.m. in Parents Hall in Upper Olmsted.