By Christine Calistri
If you haven’t visited the Wicker Wellness Center yet this year, you probably have not had the opportunity to meet Jenna, the health center’s therapy dog.
Jenna is a young goldendoodle who is certified by Therapy Dogs International and works every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Many people are pleasantly surprised to see a dog when they arrive and many have asked, “What is a therapy dog?”
New York defines a therapy pet as an animal that has been trained and certified by an established organization to have both the personality and temperament to aid in the emotional or physical health of a population.
Therapy pets are not the same as service animals who are trained for years to provide one service for one individual.
Therapy pets must be invited to visit public venues, whereas service animals are allowed without prior permission needed and are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Having a therapy dog program in a college health clinic is still relatively new.
Wicker Wellness Center Nurse Practitioner Chris Calistri presented the concept in early 2012, based on research done for her Master’s thesis.
After further research, Union’s pet therapy policy was established in the spring of 2013.
Calistri consulted with several other colleges and universities to learn about their programs.
Though very few health centers use therapy pets, pets are seen in many other departments.
Harvard Medical School has a shi tzu, Cooper, who holds regular office hours for visits.
The Yale Law library employs Monty, a terrier mix, who can be signed out like a book for visits.
Research shows that interaction with pets decreases the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in the blood and increases endorphins (happiness hormones).
There is no doubt that Jenna makes the Wicker Wellness Center more welcoming for most students and staff, and she has several friends who drop in regularly just to play.
Jenna is often asked to come by dorms or other gatherings after hours.
You can keep up with Jenna on her Facebook page, “Jenna The Therapy Pup,” or learn more about therapy dogs at TDI-dog.org or just stop by for a visit!