Med School welcomes new therapy dog

Starting today, a furry new face is joining the staff of the Medical School campus.

At 10 a.m. today, the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library will host a “coffee hour” in which it will welcome its newest resource — a three-year-old certified therapy dog. The dog, a rescue mutt named Finn, will be accompanied by his owner Krista Knudson GRD ’19, a doctoral candidate in nursing. The library plans to keep Finn on call from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Friday morning for the rest of the semester, stationed in a small conference room and ready for visitors.

“People will be able to come chitchat with me, or play with Finn, or just come sit quietly with him and pet him,” Knudson said.

Finn has already spent most of his young life as a certified animal-assisted therapy dog, a practice that has been growing in popularity in prisons, hospitals, nursing homes and other universities around the country. Tufts and Harvard both have on-call therapy dogs, and the Yale Law Library’s therapy dog Monty has gained national media attention and attracted hoards of visitors since his arrival at Yale Law School in 2011.

In the Law Library where Monty holds hours along with his owner, Access Services Librarian Julian Aiken, patrons who are interested in spending time with the dog are able to sign up for individual time slots. In the Medical Library, however, people — whether they are students or members of the general public — will be free to come and go as they please.

Animal-assisted therapy is an ever-expanding practice that traditionally involves allowing a patient to spend time with an animal, and research has shown that benefits of the practice include reduced levels of stress hormones, lower blood pressure, improved fine motor skills and a greater ability to communicate with others.

“Anyone who knows and loves a dog can speak to that, right?” Knudson said.

Library staff members and students alike said that they are hopeful that Finn’s presence will provide a stress-relieving outlet for the community. Melanie Norton, the head of access and delivery services at the Medical Library, said she hopes Finn will “bring a little joy” into the building.

Giulio Rottaro MED ’16 said that although many medical students would like to own dogs, their busy schedules — which can stretch to workdays lasting for 15 hours or more during clinical rotations — make it impractical.

“Finn’s presence should be a great way to have some benefits of a dog without the responsibility,” he said.

Before coming to Yale, Finn worked as a therapy dog with Knudson for PetPals, which is an offshoot of FriendshipWorks, a volunteer companionship group for the elderly in Boston. There, Finn developed a close relationship with a nursing home community that would regularly await his arrival and enjoy his presence. Knudson said Finn “has this gift of being in a crowded room and still having the ability to make you feel like you’re getting all of his attention.”

As Finn transitions to Yale, community members are hopeful that he will serve as a useful mental health resource on an otherwise stress-filled campus.

“Who doesn’t like unconditional love?” Norton asked. “You can literally feel the tension in the room during the [medical students’] board exam period.”

The plan to have a therapy dog on campus first began taking shape at the end of the fall semester.

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