Brody Peterson, 5, and his mother Kylie enjoy the company of Tosca, a Briard, and her owner Nona Horsley. (Emily Ferguson / The Signpost)
Brody Peterson, 5, and his mother Kylie enjoy the company of Tosca, a Briard, and her owner Nona Horsley. (Emily Ferguson / The Signpost)

Students gathered at the fireplace lounge in the Shepherd Union on Wednesday to pet and play with over half a dozen therapy dogs, as a way to destress and find comfort through some furry friends.

The Counseling and Psychological Services Center brought the Intermountain Therapy Animals to the Stress Break in the Shepherd Union on Oct. 14.

Kathy Edwards, a professor in the Department of Communication and Intermountain Therapy Animal (ITA) volunteer, said all of the therapy animals have to go through basic obedience training and that their owners also have to complete a four-week training course.

“There are a few paid staff members,” Edwards said but she went on to say that most of the members are volunteers. Edwards and her dog, Abby, also visit patients at McKay-Dee Hospital twice a month.

Jim Gent, another ITA volunteer, said that he and his wife have given their three ITA dogs extensive training. Gent and his dogs visit hospitals and pay monthly visits to nursing homes.

Gent said the residents love the animals and he believes a well-trained dog will be calmer than the average pet.

“You have to teach them to be calm, just in case they get tangled up in cords at the hospital,” Gent said.

Gent and his wife rescued a deaf border collie, Sierra, that was living in a shed on a farm and trained her to be a therapy animal.

“She was basically a feral animal,” Gent said. But after he and his wife trained her, Sierra was the first deaf pet to pass the therapy animal test.

Ruby, a 7-year-old Golden Retriever, enjoys scratches as she comforts students at the Stress Break at the Fireplace Lounge. (Emily Ferguson / The Signpost)
Ruby, a 7-year-old Golden Retriever, enjoys scratches as she comforts students at the Stress Break at the Fireplace Lounge. (Emily Ferguson / The Signpost)

Jennifer Ghan, from the outreach team for the Counseling and Psychological Services Center (CPSC), said the ultimate goal of the CPSC is to get the dogs in every month. One of the times the CPSC outreach team hopes to arrange a visit is during finals week.

“The dogs are very connected with emotions,” Ghan said. “You can see the calming effect of the animal on the students.”

“I feel like this was a really good thing for me and I could use this more often,” Alyssa Rogers, an undeclared WSU student, said as she and Shelby Orr pet a 7-year-old golden retriever named Murray.

“It reminds me of being home,” Orr, a nursing student, said as she talked about the animals she had back home in Washington.

The ITA program has several people who have been volunteering for various amounts of time. Students can register to become a member, donate money or learn more about the programs ITA offers by visiting their website.

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