Therapy dogs of Ashland


Photo submitted

Brooke Young

85 Percent of college students report feeling overwhelmed in the past year, according to the website of Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

41.6 Percent stated anxiety as a significant reality for their lives, while 24.5% said that they were taking psychotropic medication for relief from their symptoms.

Because college is considered by experts at Anxiety and Depression Association of America to be “an evolvement in the sense of self-identity and the shock of leaving home.” Many students feel the effects of chronic fatigue and stress.

With all of the statistics of stress, many college campuses provide resources and specified outlets on campus to assist students in dealing with these feelings and situations.

Fortunately, friendly faces such as Toby, Nikko and Atlas step in at Ashland University.

AU’s library hosts therapy dogs throughout the semester to assist students in managing their stress as well as providing them with comfort, according to Donald Reams, the reference librarian for correctional education as well as the coordinator of the therapy dog program at AU.

With the known benefits of therapy dogs, AU continues to implement the program during times of extreme stress for students, such as finals week and the beginning of the semester.

“That’s just what we do. We just want to take and change a person’s outlook for five minutes, or fifteen minutes, or however long they’re there,” Mark Briegel, a therapy dog volunteer with AU, said.

Briegel volunteers his time alongside his Golden Retrievers, Maverick and Cooper, who he described as ready to provide emotional assistance at any time.

Briegel went on to say that he works with other age groups, but college students have stood out to him in particular.

“It’s just a different atmosphere because of the age group,” he said.

While there is “the same dynamic and excitement to see the dog” the experience of therapy work with college students differs because of “what they are going through in their lives and where they are in their lives,” Briegel said.

Colleges across the United States have begun to implement therapy dogs as an emotional release and escape for students, and AU continues to expand the program, adding additional times, weeks and dogs.
Many owners of these animals say they are glad to be part of such an influential program.

“What these dogs do is amazing, and they don’t know what they have the ability to do with the wag of a tail,” Mary Collett, the owner of Nikko, a Hungarian Vizsla, who serves as a therapy dog at the AU library, said.

Collett has volunteered for many years with her therapy dogs, saying that on numerous occasions the students at AU will exclaim, with joy and sincere appreciation, that a visit from Nikko is “just what we needed.”

Reams said while the program had existed far before he was on campus, he works closely alongside organizations such as Caring Therapy Canines, which is based in Wooster as well as Alliance of Therapy Dogs, which is a national organization. He said that every individual who brings their dog to AU is a volunteer, and has experienced the impact the dogs create while on campus.

Reams himself has experienced the impact.

Vividly, Reams said he recalls a girl who walked into the library, seemingly unaware that therapy dogs were scheduled for the day. Looking around, she saw a Newfoundland named Chloe. Reams described the moment as being able to “see the wheels turning in her head” as she beelined for the dog and buried her face in the fur.

These moments can create a lasting impact on the students, Ream said.

Yet, they can create a lasting impact on the volunteers as well, which was echoed by Briegel and Collett.
Lynne Miller, an employee of the College of Wooster as well as owner of Atlas, a bullmastiff therapy dog experienced a profound moment which has stayed with her throughout her years of therapy dog work.
Miller sought out Atlas specifically for therapy work due to his aimable temperament, and ability to brighten up any room he is in, she said.

“A girl laid down on the floor and spooned with him [Atlas] and cuddled with him for 30 minutes,” Miller said.

Miller said many of the students are “taken with Atlas,” and his ability to brighten up any room he is in, Miller said that she “feels fortunate to have him.”

A common theme between all volunteers from Linda Wuthrich, the owner of Miniature Schnauzer, Toby, to Miller was a singular word.


Wuthrich was initially skeptical as to whether college kids would be interested in a dog. She stated that she was extremely surprised get the reactions she did. She also said her Schnauzer, Toby, loves the experience as much as students do.

There are proven and significant health benefits involved with stroking a dog’s fur.

According to Healing Pet Therapy, PAWS for People, rhythmically stroking a dog’s fur has the ability to re-center your brain and provide a calming effect due to the release of oxytocin, as well as the decrease of cortisol, therefore eliminating stress and anxiety.

“With a lot of volunteer work, you end up getting burnt out. You get such an enjoyment of watching other people enjoy your dog. You don’t have that burnout factor that you see in other forms of volunteer work when you watch how much enjoyment he brings to other people,” Miller said.

The AU library will be hosting therapy dogs again to close out the semester and alleviate the stress of finals, with multiple times and dates to be announced in the coming weeks. Therapy dogs will be present at the AU library on Dec 5, 8, 9, and 10.

December 5th from 11am-1pm
December 8th from 2pm-4pm
December 9th from 11am-3pm and 6pm-8pm
December 10th from 6pm-8pm