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Three therapy dogs sit on a blue couch.

Orion, Tilly and Rosie provide therapeutic care for students at Nazareth College through regular office hours and monthly events.

Nazareth College

Nazareth College’s mascot is the eagle, but students are more likely to encounter a therapy dog on campus, thanks to the InterProfessional Animal-assisted Wellness (IPAW) Collaborative.

Therapy dogs live and work alongside their handlers at the college in western New York, providing regular care to students and contributing to a more mindful campus culture.

A different breed: Research shows therapy dogs positively impact students’ moods, so they have become more common on college campuses, serving as comfort animals to students, working alongside public safety officers or visiting during high-stress times.

“Animal-assisted interventions for college students typically involve animal visitation programs, where outside animal and handler teams come to college campuses,” explains Laura Poleshuck, occupational therapy professor at Nazareth.

Nazareth’s program is different because faculty members serve as handlers, meaning the dogs are regularly involved and more deeply integrated into the community.

“When faculty members are the handlers, they know and understand college student routines, demands, activities and stressors,” Poleshuck says.

While other institutions have hired therapy dogs into their departments, like the University of Southern California’s student health center or Yale Law School’s library therapy dog, Nazareth claims to have the only faculty-handled campus-integrated therapy dogs.

Paws on the ground: Labrador retriever Orion and English springer spaniel Rosie were the first dogs to join Nazareth’s campus community in fall 2021, handled by Poleshuck and music therapy professor Melissa Reed, respectively.

Orion and Rosie are both registered as therapy dogs with Washington-based animal-assistance organization Pet Partners.

The newest member of the team, Tilly, joined in January and is a blind mixed-breed therapy dog in training, also handled by Poleshuck.

The dogs wear purple vests, the college colors, and play with stuffed eagle mascots. They even have their own Instagram account, on which handlers post cute photos of the pups or share information about where to visit them on campus that day.

Spreading paw-sitivity: “The IPAW Collaborative dogs and handlers are involved in events/activities with multiple departments and programs across campus, with the goals of engagement, education and success of students,” Poleshuck says.

Tilly, a blind mixed-breed dog who looks like she's part golden retriever, wears a purple vest and is being petted by a number of students.
Tilly and the other therapy dogs interact with students at events like new student orientation and family weekend.

Nazareth College

All three dogs provide office hours around campus and meet in the IPAW Pad, located in the basement of the library behind the writing center, once a month.

In the IPAW Pad, students can work on dog-related crafts, assist in a blanket-making service project or just enjoy a study break with the pups.

Orion, Rosie and Tilly also make appearances at events during orientation and family weekend, as well as assist with the office of student success, veteran services, campus housing and health and counseling.

Orion the therapy dog licks a student's face.
Surveyed students say the dogs elicit thoughts of home and comfort.

Nazareth College

In addition, the dogs provide therapy session work alongside their handlers in the on-campus speech, occupational, physical therapy, reading and interprofessional clinics—which serve clients of all ages.

Nazareth College students collected survey data from their peers to understand their perceptions of the therapy dogs in fall 2022. Students said they attributed happiness, stress reduction, social connection and thoughts of home and comfort with the dogs.

Most students, around 80 percent, enjoyed seeing the dogs informally around campus, and 9 percent preferred the structured activities.

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