Therapy dogs provide finals stress relief

By Mariah Schaefer

Many laughs and shrieks filled the Undergraduate Library on Tuesday as students pet three therapy dogs to relieve stress.

The therapy dogs were a part of the Undergraduate Library’s first “De-Stress Fest,” but seeing therapy dogs at the library during finals is nothing new.

According to David Ward, a reference services librarian at the UGL who set up the dogs’ visits, this is the third year that therapy dogs have come to the library to help students relieve stress.

Ward said that the idea for bringing in therapy dogs came from the Yale Law Library, and it has continued at the UGL because of its popularity with students.

“There’s a lot of people using it,” Ward said. “Students really enjoy it and we get a lot of positive feedback from them.”

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Andie Antonik, freshman in FAA, said that petting the therapy dogs at the UGL is very stress-relieving.

“You don’t have to worry about your homework or whatever,” Antonik said. “You can take a break, relax a little bit and then start fresh with your homework.”

Champaign-Urbana Canine Connection, a local volunteer organization, made three dogs available for the event: Atlas, a 7-year-old Rottweiler; Raven, a 9-year-old standard poodle; and Twiggy, a 9-year-old Australian shepherd.

Chris Eliason, event coordinator for Champaign-Urbana Canine Connection, said that dogs and their owners work as a team, and they are all volunteers.

Eliason said she volunteers with her therapy dog, Raven, because she enjoys seeing people smile and seeing the connections Raven makes with them.

“I just think it’s really valuable,” Eliason said. “I think (therapy animals are) our gift, and I just think that the way they bring people together, the way they bring the best out in you … It was just something I wanted to do.”

Atlas’ owner, Ashley Heinemann, a volunteer through Champaign-Urbana Canine Connection, said she certified Atlas as a therapy dog after taking him to a lot of training classes because she wanted to give back.

Heinemann said many people have the impression that a Rottweiler like Atlas is a “mean dog,” but she wanted to break that stigma.

“With his personality and his training, I just like to get him out as much as possible to show what a good dog they are and what a great dog they can be if you just take a little time,” she said.

According to Heinemann, dogs need to go through a testing process before becoming therapy dogs. Atlas is certified through Therapy Dogs International. Heinemann said she has to follow the organization’s rules, such as not giving Atlas treats, not letting him off his leash and not having him do tricks.

Jessica Blair, a volunteer at Champaign-Urbana Canine Connection, a veterinary assistant at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and Twiggy’s owner, said she thinks more people should certify their dogs as therapy dogs.

“We are flooded with requests constantly, requests we can’t even fulfill as a volunteer organization,” Blair said. “It’s definitely something that your average pet owner can strive for.”

Ward said that the most rewarding part of holding therapy dogs at the Undergraduate Library is “seeing how the students interact with them and hearing them talk about how it helps de-stress them and get them ready to power through the rest of their finals.”

Tom Kokkines, sophomore in LAS, agrees.

“I think therapy dogs are a great idea because they take your mind off of studying for long periods of time, and they are comforting,” he said.

“It’s good, cheap therapy,” Heinemann said. “I mean, instead of paying a therapist, why not just pet a dog?”