Puppy Love

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Thomas Pham, who has had Diesel for over a year, lives on campus in Porter College with his emotional support dog and takes him to the University Terrace Park most afternoons. Photo by Ali Enright.
Thomas Pham, who has had Diesel for over a year, lives on campus in Porter College with his emotional support dog and takes him to the University Terrace Park most afternoons. Photo by Ali Enright.

Unconditional love, undying loyalty and endless forgiveness. It’s sometimes difficult to find these traits in even our closest family and friends. In dogs, they’re ubiquitous. Whether dealing with stress from exams, going through emotional hardship or just needing an ear to listen — dogs can provide support in a myriad of ways.

“No matter what shit I go through, he’s always going to be there,” said Thomas Pham, a third-year film and digital media transfer student. “It’s a quality you can’t really find in another person.”

Pham has had Diesel, his emotional support dog, for just over a year.

“I used to get myself in certain situations and Diesel would help me calm down,” Pham said. ”He serves me a purpose of being able to take my mind off things, like dealing with stress, anxiety and frustration.”

There were more than 40 animals on campus in student housing as of November 2015. Of those animals, three-fourths of them are support animals, and the rest are service animals.

Researchers from Azabu University in Japan have shown that people’s strong relationships with their dogs have a scientific basis. Oxytocin, a hormone found to play a significant role in forming relationships, spikes in human and canine brains when a dog and owner lock eyes.

Emotional support dogs aren’t the only kind of dog to offer a therapeutic benefit. While emotional support dogs can be any dog that provides a benefit to their owner, therapy dogs need to be certified with a therapy dog
organization.

Pause for Paws is a volunteer-run, stress relief event that happens each quarter at McHenry and Science and Engineering libraries, where students can pet and connect with a therapy dog.

“I’ve had students [at Pause for Paws] who in the course of just petting the dogs will break down homesick or because they miss their own pet,” said Caroline Berger, a registered therapy dog owner and Health Sciences Internship Program coordinator. “Often, it’s their first quarter away and first time facing finals, and you’ll hear them again and again saying ‘I feel so much better’ — that’s our goal, to help people feel better by interacting with the dogs.”

Started by Ann Hubble, a staff member in the Digital Initiatives Department, the program has grown in size each year.

“It’s taken a long time, but finally we’re here,” Hubble said. “It started with one dog, and I had dozens and dozens of people coming for just that dog. The next quarter I had five therapy dogs and it just kept going. Last December, 350 people came [for] 12 dogs, but it was great — it was really fun.”

Hubble has also attended the volunteer- run Tales to Tails, a literacy program for kids. Children who have difficulty reading aloud or are afraid of dogs get to sit down and read to a registered therapy dog for 20 minutes at a time.

Lucy Binnert, who is 5 years old and an emergent reader, doesn’t like to be around large dogs. After her second visit to Tales to Tails and reading to Cooper the dog, she felt comfortable enough to place a hand on his back for the first time.

Lucy Binnert recently started attending Tales to Tails to practice reading and become more comfortable around dogs. According to her father John Binnert, she was extremely afraid of dogs and hesitant to touch them before this program.
Five-year-old Lucy Binnert recently started attending Tales to Tails to practice reading and become more comfortable around dogs. According to her father John Binnert, she was extremely afraid of dogs and hesitant to touch them before this program. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

“For a lot of kids, it’s about the reading,” said John Binnert, Lucy’s father. “But there’s also that secondary element of trust with the animal, of building that relationship. For Lucy, the relationship is a lot more important than the reading. Just understanding the dog and all of the dog’s personality traits is really important to her.”

Melanee Barash and Janis O’Driscoll founded Tales to Tails in 2008 at the Santa Cruz Public Library, and it has now expanded to nine locations around Santa Cruz county.

“Dogs are nonjudgmental,” said Diane Kipnis, one of the dog handlers who regularly attends Tales to Tails with her therapy dog, Nanna. “They’re not an authority figure. They just want attention and the kids want attention too — they’re kind of kindred spirits.”

Like Kipnis, Berger believes there’s a special connection with dogs.

“They provide something that you can’t get anywhere else, which is a level of companionship which is based on a nonverbal relationship — that’s what’s so unique.”