By Elise Monsour Puckett
Virginia Tech therapy dogs Josie, Derek, and Wagner fetch stress from students with their companionship and unconditional love.
Kelsey Hammer, University Libraries digital literacy and multimedia production librarian who works on projects related to digital life, media creation, and collaboration, said one of her big projects has been combining efforts with the Virginia Tech therapy dogs to support students in finding joy, space, and support on campus — especially in Newman Library.
Studies show that petting a dog or other animal can increase the hormone oxytocin, resulting in feelings of calmness and contentment. Additionally, these interactions can decrease cortisol levels, leading to lower anxiety and stress.
“Many of our dog events this year have centered on principles that so many of our collaborators share including wellness, celebration, and gratitude,” said Hammer.
Over the past year, University Libraries has teamed up with the therapy dogs for events including Pops and Pups featuring popsicles for students studying for finals; three dog birthday parties with cake, snacks, photo opportunities, and 3D-printed dog-themed giveaways made in the Prototyping Studio; and Newman Library’s classroom dedication to the therapy dogs complete with a paw print plaque. One of the dogs, Josie, held office hours in Newman Library.
In May 2022, the VT Therapy Dogs Skills Showcase celebrated National Therapy Animal Day and highlighted the many of the dogs’ talents. Students watched them demonstrate their helping skills, such as giving a hug or attending to a person who is upset, grabbed therapy dog buttons and autographs, and gave the friendly pooches some pats.
“We also set up a huge smorgasbord of snacks and encouraged students to take handfuls!” said Hammer. “This was during finals and we know that can be a time where you might forget to eat or need an extra pick me up. Students had a ball!”
The events are fun and exciting for the dogs too. “These dogs love to work and they seemed to know this was set up as a time for them to shine!” said Steinruck. “They really brought their A game, and the event seemed to beam with joy and celebration!”
“These dog events offer something unique at a time students may need it most,” said Steinruck. “Students work hard all semester and they are stressed. Offering them a time to connect and reduce stress is very beneficial. The energy at these events is awesome! Most of all, I hope the students feel loved, included, valued, and cared for!”