Texas Woman’s faculty and staff received a warm and wiggly welcome back to campus when the inaugural class of the Pioneer Pet Therapy Program was introduced at an Aug. 18 event in the Blagg Huey Library.
The inaugural class of handler teams is comprised of:
- Amy Allison (student health services) and Giselle
- Missy Bassett (student life) and Bella
- Stephanie Brown (student life) and Lucy
- Amber Geldersma (human resources) and Boomer
- Monique LeMieux (nutrition & food sciences) and Scout
- Richard Shuster (music) and Zoli
- Amanda Zerangue (library) and Alex
The wellness and support program is being launched on the Denton campus this fall, primarily to help students – but also faculty and staff – reduce stress, loneliness and isolation; cope with anxiety and depression; and cultivate or strengthen a sense of belonging at TWU.
Program coordinators Brown, Allison and Bassett and their canine companions were with other members of the inaugural class and their certified therapy dogs at the Welcome Week event.
Located at various spots in the library living room, the dogs greeted each new visitor with ears perked up and tails wagging. Even behind their masks, the visitors’ smiles were evident as they rewarded the dogs with pats on the head, scratches behind the ears, and even tummy rubs.
During a training session the previous week, Allison said the decision to start a pet therapy program at TWU came after talking with officials from Oklahoma State University about their program. The Texas Woman’s group is working with Pet Partners, the leading therapy animal organization in the United States. Allison said the process included a training course, which she described as “homework you do with your dog,” and an evaluation.
Kathy Tomlinson, a team evaluator with Pet Partners, is helping the group through the certification process. Her husband, Jason, TWU’s vice president for finance and administration, heard about the program in a meeting and recommended the group contact her for assistance.
Tomlinson, who has been a pet therapy volunteer for more than 20 years, says Pet Partners looks for “dogs with a calm demeanor, patience, confidence, and a love of human contact.” When all those factors are in place, she said, “Magic happens between a dog and the person they’re helping.”
Brown said the Pioneer Pet Therapy Program will offer a limited number of events each semester, including:
- Programs for the student body at large during particularly high-stress times such as midterms and finals
- Programs that target subpopulations of students including residential students, Pioneers First (first-generation students), veterans, Frontier students (foster care), and student parents
- At least one program each semester specifically for faculty and staff
“All of the events we have planned for fall will necessarily be fluid and flexible due to COVID,” Brown said. “As we increase the number of volunteer handler teams, we can do more events and have the capacity to respond to requests to attend department or organization events.”
Recruiting for new volunteers will begin early in the spring 2022 semester. Anyone who is interested should contact Bassett at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time to learn more about the process.
- Be a full-time regular employee of TWU
- Register with Pet Partners and successfully complete the online handler course and in-person evaluation
- Successfully complete TWU in-person training
The inaugural class of TWU's Pioneer Pet Therapy Program
Story by Karen Garcia
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