Dog days have come to Yale Law School.
A staple at hospitals, nursing homes and retirement homes since World War II, therapy dogs have begun to appear on college campuses, providing an outlet for stressed students at schools including the University of California, San Diego, Tufts University and — as of this Monday — Yale.
The Law School’s pilot dog therapy program was announced in a March 10 email from librarian Blair Kauffman, who said students would be allowed to check out the certified “library therapy” dog, named Monty, for half-hour visits over three days beginning March 28. He added that he hoped the half-hour visits with Monty, which end today, would decrease student stress.
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“It is well-documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being,” he wrote in the email.
According to three law students who checked out Monty during the fully booked pilot program this week, the experience was both fun and therapeutic. All students, administrators and therapy dog experts interviewed said they hope Monty returns in a more permanent capacity.
Simi Bhat LAW ’12 met with Monty during one of the library’s first appointments Monday afternoon. She showed her student identification at the circulation desk, checked out Monty using a special code listed in the catalog and was taken to an isolated room on the library’s third floor.
There, Bhat and five of her friends met Monty’s owner, access services librarian Julian Aiken, who introduced them to Monty. Eventually the group was left alone with the dog, a visit Bhat described as “a good way to de-stress.”
“Monty pretty much just sat there, though sometimes he would look up towards the door,” she said. “But it was great to hang out with friends for half an hour in the middle of the day, trying to figure out what was going on in the dog’s mind.”
Sebastian Swett LAW ’12 said he checked out Monty on Tuesday not to relieve stress, but to escape the grind of daily life as a Yale Law student, adding that he found the visit to be therapeutic.
“I went with a couple of friends, and we could just enjoy sitting around with a dog, not thinking about classes or jobs or any of the other crazy aspects of law school,” he said. “Dogs, at least the dogs I’ve known, love people regardless of who they are, and there is something comforting about that.”
Before Swett’s session, Monty had an “interview” with National Public Radio, and Swett said he was initially worried that his visit would pale in comparison. But Swett brought along some bacon for Monty, and before long won him over. When Monty stayed in his lap even after the bacon ran out, Swett said he knew their friendship “transcended the treats.”
National attention aside, Monty has quickly become a favorite at the Law School and draws large crowds of passing students wherever he goes. Eric Parrie LAW ’13, who met Monty for the first time Wednesday morning, said he first saw the famous canine taking a walk down Wall Street.
“Everyone walked over and pet him and said hello,” Parrie said, “but I didn’t get to pet him because he was swarmed.”
Although Parrie did not sign up for a one-on-one session with Monty, he said he would consider doing so in the future. Parrie and Liz Hanft LAW ’12 both said they think Monty makes people happier because he encourages students to put work aside and even venture outside for a visit — though Hanft added that Monty seemed “tired” from his many playdates when her friends visited him.
THERAPY DOGS ON THE RISE
The special connection between human and canines is both chemical and emotional, said Ursula Kempe, president of Therapy Dogs International. Kempe, whose group licenses and distributes therapy dogs, said her organization tries to harness this connection for healing purposes.
“If you have a dog interact with a person, and that person has any type of need, the dog is nonjudgmental — he is just there,” she said. “The dog has to want to see you and you have to want to see the dog, and then when you stroke the dog, you forget your troubles for a while. It is simple, but very beneficial.”
Though Kempe said most therapy dogs are mixed-breed dogs, a therapy dog can be any breed so long as it likes people, tolerates other animals and has a stable temperament. Monty is a brown, hypoallergenic 21-pound border terrier mix.
“Of course the dog must be trained, but the dog really has to gravitate towards people,” she said. “Imagine you are in a nursing home and a dog really focuses on you. Do you know how good that makes you feel?”
Therapy dogs are useful in many different contexts, she added, from helping young kids learn how to read in front of their peers to comforting trauma victims after incidents such as the Sept. 11 attacks. Bringing dogs to college campuses follows logically from such uses, she said, and she hopes the program at Yale continues.
If Monty returns during exam periods, Yale will join several other schools that have allowed students to play with dogs during finals periods, such as Tufts University and Harvard Law School.
“We don’t have our own dog like Yale does, but for the last few years during exam periods, we’ve had a study break where we’ve encouraged students and administrators to bring their dogs to the law school for around two hours one evening,” said Ellen Cosgrove, dean of students at Harvard Law School. “It has been successful. It’s a time to relax and get away from student stress for a few hours.”
She added that the event usually draws around 12 dogs and 50 students.
Yale Law is not the only New Haven institution to use therapy dogs. Currently, Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven Hospital hosts sessions with certified therapy dogs for patients.
Monty could not be reached for comment.