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Meet Counselorís New Top Dog

Counseling and Disability staff with Percy the therapy dogStudents looking for stress relief or the cuddly comfort that only man’s best friend can provide have a new option for therapy from the Office of Counseling & Disability Services: Percy, the therapy dog.

The four-month-old Maltese/Shih Tzu mix belongs to Debby Jones, assistant director of Counseling and Disability Services, and Percy is part of a new program for the office.

“Dogs like Percy have been bred over the centuries to be loving companion animals,” Jones said. “They are also considered to be relatively hypoallergenic as they do not shed and produce very low levels of dander, a common allergen.”

Currently, Jones is administering basic command training herself; however, Percy is on the waiting list to join Faithful Paws, a therapy animal organization that offers training towards the AKC Canine Good Citizen certification, which will take several months.

“After he achieves this certification, he and I will join their ranks and visit approved organizations, like hospitals and assisted care living facilities, once a month,” Jones said.

In this new program, Percy will be available to come in to some counseling sessions with students if they wish to have his company.  In addition, the dog can attend gatherings and events to meet new people and be a goodwill ambassador for the office.  Jones said students or staff should know that they can certainly choose not to interact with Percy.  If someone requests it, Percy can be moved to another office in the C&DS suite, and for any allergic person who does not want to be exposed to a dog, the conference room remains canine-free for consultations and meetings. 

Jones said literature has shown that using trained animals as an adjunct to counseling can be very effective.  

“Having a therapy dog as part of a university counseling center program is a growing trend across the country,” she said. “We have been in contact with at least a half-dozen centers in places like North Texas, Arizona, and Florida that have dogs of various sizes.  In each of these locations, staff members report positive responses to having a canine presence in their offices.”

Jones said the “sweet-natured ball of fluff” has received overwhelmingly positive response from staff and students. 

“Therapy animals provide calming comfort to people who may be experiencing stressful emotions,” Jones said. “Our goal is for Percy to take on this role as well as offer some playful fun for students, whether they be clients of Counseling and Disability Services or just passing by, wanting to play with a small pup for a quick break.”  

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