By Andy Mitchell
Warmth and comfort in the form of man’s best friend appear on the University of Iowa campus to ease students’ concerns and stress during the finals season.
Therapy Dogs of Johnson County is a local group of pet owners with Pet Partners, a national organization that certifies handlers and therapy animals such as dogs and cats.
The group is represented by Dog Teams, made of an owner and their pet. Dog Teams go around Johnson County and the Iowa City area to visit with people as a form of stress relief.
One of these Dog Teams is Erin McCormick and her dog Denali. McCormick, a veterinarian by trade, has been a part of the program for four years. She and Denali go to nursing homes, hospitals, and mental-health-care facilities in addition to the stress relief activities on campus.
“She’s just a dog that loves people; most of the teams are that way,” McCormick said. “It’s enjoyable for everyone.”
A long line wrapped around the hallway to the IMU North and South Rooms on Monday night, filled with students waiting to spend some time with the therapy dogs. It served as one of the stress-relief activities that the IMU provided.
“I think it’s a good way to relieve stress without getting me out of the mood to study,” UI sophomore Hunter Andersen said. “You pet some cute dogs, chill out, then go back to studying with a newfound joy and revamped energy.”
With Therapy Dogs of Johnson County, Dog Teams also go to schools and libraries for a unique reading program in which children read to the therapy dogs. At the events, the dogs are typically played with, fed treats, petted, and brushed.
“After weeks of intense studying, it was helpful to relax and just be with a dog before my final,” freshman student Holly Hemann said. “It helped me calm down and stop freaking out so my final cramming didn’t feel as frantic as it would have otherwise.”
The training is less intensive than that for service dogs and more accessible to the public. Dog owners and their pets can undergo testing and certification through their parent organization Pet Partners.
“I know how much joy dogs bring to our lives,” McCormick said. “Just getting to share Nali with other people is pretty special.” She said that for people who cannot see their pets in a nursing home situation, the therapy dogs really brighten their day.
Currently, Therapy Dogs of Johnson County faces a high demand for therapy-dog visits, and McCormick said that the group could always use some more teams.
Becoming a pet partner requires a two-part process. First, the pet handler needs to undergo a special handler course that teaches people how to be a pet-therapy team and then take an exam. Owners are not the only members of the team to take a test, as the pets also go through a “basic training” to make sure they have the temperament and obedience for the job.
Therapy-dog events will continue during the week at the UI Main Library at 4:30 p.m. today and Wednesday at the IMU at 6:30 p.m.