Anna Grasso, MS, OTR/L, CAPS, assistant professor in the University’s Occupational Therapy (OT) program, was feeling a little stressed out. She was about to take on a new position at the University as academic fieldwork coordinator and nerves were a little on edge.

Plus, it was finals week, and that usually ups the stress level on faculty and students.

So, when Grasso saw that the Learning Resource Center (LRC) was once again hosting a pet Pet-Therapy-Comfort-Caring-Canines-July-2019-(4).jpgtherapy session on July 31, she jumped at the chance to find a little canine comfort.

It was, to take some liberties with an old phrase, barking up the right tree.

“I’ve been a little stressed with this transition from one job to another, so I wanted to get a little bit of a relaxation break,’ said Professor Grasso, who has a Boxer dog at home who she said isn’t nearly as therapeutic and calm as Neeko, the Golden Retriever that put a smile on her face for a few minutes.

“I find dogs to be an incredibly therapeutic medium for those who like dogs,” she said. “In the occupational therapy program, I’ve taught my students a little bit about the value of animals and how they can be used therapeutically. So, we’ve had a few lectures about not only dogs, but cats and other animals who can be beneficial in a mental health arena as well as in physical rehab as a motivator and a means to get clients to do a little bit more than they thought they could do.”

Thanks to Comfort Caring Canines Therapy Dogs Inc., a foursome of fun furry friends – Fletcher, Annie, Neeko and a gentle giant Mastiff named Fhinneas, who checked in at 240 pounds and laid down pretty much anywhere he wanted – took over the LRC for an hour and submitted themselves to patting, ear scratching and belly rubs from students, faculty and staff who were there to get away from the pressures of finals week.
During past pet therapy events, the center’s staff has said that bringing therapy animals into educational institutions has become much more commonplace because of the added health – and mental well-being – benefits for the students, particularly during finals week.

“I grew up with dogs, but I don’t have a dog at my apartment now,” said student Cassidy Mertz, ‘20SLP, who goes home at break to three Australian Shepherd dogs. “So it’s nice to get a sense of being at home when it’s finals. You’re just so ready to go home. They seem to know who needs the attention most.”

Indeed they do. Ron Tomasello, who owns Fletcher, a Brittany breed, said the dog knows how to have a good time at these events.

“The students just light up and relax,” said Tomasello. “And, when we do these events, Fletcher just knows he can relax and have a good time. He’s been doing therapy work for about five years and he’s great at it.”

And the students loved having Fletcher back, as well as all the other dogs.

“I came down because I’m a big dog lover and because exams are stressful. So, I wanted to up my oxytocin levels and petting dogs is a great way to do that and release stress,” said Emily Mittelman, ‘20OT.  I don’t have any animals at home is this is really helpful. But now I want to take them home with me.”