In Lower Columbia College’s library Learning Commons Tuesday, a buzz of excitement punctuated by “Awwws” and laughter filled the air.
That’s uncommon for finals week, where students are usually quiet or murmuring with one another as they swap information. But this was a special occasion with two unusual visitors: Ella and Cody, two certified therapy dogs from Columbia River Pet Partners, were the center of attention.
This was the first “Stress Release Clinic” with therapy dogs that Lower Columbia College has hosted. The last day of regular classes at the college were last week, so many students were in the thick of finals Tuesday afternoon, and stress levels were high.
“This is the best therapy ever,” said student Bryanna Stone. Stone said that as a working mom and a student, she had been feeling stressed as she studied for her anatomy and physiology exam.
Therapy dogs are different from service dogs or emotional support dogs. Therapy dogs usually provide therapeutic benefits to people during visits to hospitals, hospices, libraries and schools.
Ella, a 9-year-old standard poodle, stood patiently as students stopped to scratch her head and back. Her trainer, Teri Lewis, had Ella certified as a therapy dog back in June.
“I actually retired from my job and wanted to do something with her, so that’s now what we do,” Lewis said. This was the first stress relief clinic that the two had attended, but Ella is a regular at Orchards Elementary School in Vancouver, where students get to read to her.
On the other side of the Learning Commons was Cody, a 5-year-old golden retriever. Cody primarily makes “stress relieving” college visits in Portland and Vancouver.
According to the handlers, therapy dogs must still be trained and have basic obedience skills, and they should be comfortable around larger groups of people. That wasn’t a problem for Cody the Retriever.
“In fact when I take him to the dog park, he’s okay with the dogs, but he loves people,” said Cody’s handler, Mary Grout. “He’ll run around and greet all the people and not really play with the dogs.”
Although LCC has never had a program like this, hosting therapy sessions with dogs on college campuses is an increasingly common practice.
“(The students) just love it so much and it’s a win win, because he loves it, too,” Grout said. She said she was inspired to volunteer with Cody after her son, a student at the University of British Columbia, told her about the therapy dog visits there.
Melinda Harbaugh, dean of instruction and library director at LCC, said that she hopes to hold the event again, based on Tuesday’s success. She got the idea over a year ago from the library director at Centralia College, who hosted a similar event on campus.
After filling a long-vacant tenure-track librarian position last year, Harbaugh finally had enough staffing to organize the event. The newest faculty librarian, Lindsay Keevy, and tutoring coordinator Heidi Carmody jumped on the idea and did most of the planning and coordinating with Columbia River Pet Partners.
“Students seemed to be pretty stressed out this quarter. I think the snow days had something to do with it,” Carmody said. “When we were looking at this and realized ‘Hey we can do this,’ we got really excited.”
Harbaugh said that the learning commons hosts several study-related events during finals week, but “stress relief” is more uncharted territory.
“We are trying to provide an inviting and supportive environment for all LCC students, and this event, during the stress of finals week, is one more way we can show support,” Harbaugh said. “We truly care about the success of our students, and supporting that success is at the core of everything we do.”