Saurabh Sood (MCompSci’17) is excited for the end of the semester. Not for the grueling pressure of finals, but for the opportunity to lounge with friendly dogs at CU Boulder’s libraries.
He adores the animals — adult therapy dogs trained to be calm and approachable.
Sood has attended 10 CU therapy dog events since arriving from Delhi, India, in fall 2015. Petting the dogs brings him instant relief from the demands of his computer science major.
“It’s the best thing,” said Sood, an aspiring software engineer. “These sessions helped me realize that I need to get a dog.”
Campus therapy dog visits began in 2012 at the request of the law school’s then-circulation manager, Robyn Copeland, who wanted to offer students a distraction from finals. Students loved being with the animals so much that five other campus libraries — business, music, Earth sciences, engineering and Norlin — began hosting therapy dog events, too.
Now, during the final weeks of the spring and fall semesters, the libraries bring in dogs for two hours at a time. The usual favorites come — golden retrievers, huskies and labradors — plus more obscure breeds, such as Belgian tervurens.
Numerous peer-reviewed studies have discovered that petting animals helps lower blood pressure, regulate the heart and reduce anxiety. Columbia University, UC Berkeley, Kent State University and other schools also have introduced therapy dogs in recent years.
Sood, who enjoys telling his parents and twin brother in India about his therapy dog sessions, plans to adopt a rescue dog after he graduates. For now, he favors one pup in particular: Jane Collier’s (A&S’69) 4-year-old yellow lab, Cooper.
Collier is a coordinator with Therapy Dogs of Boulder County (TDBC), a volunteer group that arranges free therapy dog visits at organizations and companies. She and Wendy Shefte — owner of therapy dogs Pepper, a Portuguese water dog, and Stella, a goldendoodle — coordinate the dog events at CU.
Said Collier, “There’s not a human being in the world that will make you feel as welcome and loved as a dog does.”
Cooper is serious about his vocation as a therapy animal. In one- to two-hour increments, he allows humans to pet, grasp, hug and cuddle him without complaint.
Sometimes he comforts the seriously ill. Once, after sitting on the right side of a stroke victim, the patient placed her hand on his fuzzy head and beamed.
“They said it was the first time she had used her right hand since her stroke,” said Collier.
Of all the places the pair visits, CU is a favorite, she said. “Sometimes Cooper may have 10 sets of hands on him at one time,” she said. “[Students] tell me over and over how much this has helped them decompress, breathe and clear their mind.”
Therapy dogs are not service animals, which do work demanding focus, such as leading a blind person, said Daryl Holle, TDBC’s website director. Therapy dogs are all about distraction.
“A therapy dog is a love muffin,” he said, adding that a dog can become a therapy animal after testing by an accredited organization. “They are supposed to be petted and are dedicated to others.”
At CU, as many as 40 TDBC therapy dogs visit with students each semester. Hundreds of people interact with them, and it’s not uncommon to see faculty and staff crouched with the animals also.
“I’ve seen people who drop their bags and everything they’re holding and just run up to the dogs,” said Grace Haynes of the music library.
Haynes once saw a seemingly overwhelmed student sit with a dog and finish her homework on the ground.
“She left in a much calmer state and was more at peace with what she had coming up,” she said.
The work is exhausting for the animals: Cooper often falls asleep afterward, said Collier. But they’re good at what they do.
“All dogs are emotional support for us,” said Collier. “They teach us how to live in the moment.”
Photo by Casey A. Cass