For rough days, a therapy dog program at the Medical Library can help with students’ stress levels.
Now a year after its establishment in early 2014, the therapy dog program at the Harvey Cushing and John Hay Whitney Medical Library is fully enmeshed in student life at the School of Medicine. This semester, Finn the therapy dog, will be in the Medical Library rotunda for “Finn Fridays,” which last from roughly 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Finn also participates in special events at the library, visits the School of Public Health and is involved with research on campus.
“I think having a dog [at the library] changes the space, from a work space to a home space,” curator of the Cushing Center and staff photographer Terry Dagradi said. “You drop your guard and relax — Finn is so nice and comforting.”
Interim Director of the Medical Library John Gallagher said he has noticed a national trend in libraries increasingly offering therapy dog programs.
Molly Crossman GRD ’19 said in an email there are over 925 programs like the one at the Medical Library. Given the issue of “psychological distress” among students, she said library therapy dog programs are one way of giving students support.
Anecdotally, dogs have been attributed to reduce stress, but little empirical evidence has validated these claims, associate professor of psychology and director of Yale’s Canine Cognition Center Laurie Santos said.
As a result, Crossman conducted a study of the Medical Library’s therapy dog program in which participants were divided into three groups: one interacted with Finn, one saw pictures of Finn and one had no time with Finn.
“Those who interacted with the dog experienced significantly greater improvements in anxiety and mood than those in the other conditions,” Crossman said. “What we still don’t know is what about the dog causes those changes, how long the effects last or whether those subjective experiences are reflected in biological or behavioral changes, but those will be questions for future work in this area.”
Finn is also involved in other research on campus. At the Canine Cognition Center, Finn participates in studies involving human cues and morality, Santos said. And in addition to his regular presence at the Medical Library, Finn is involved in a variety of events at the School of Medicine, Head of Access and Delivery Services Melanie Norton said. She added Finn is a source of “warm fuzziness” during highly stressful times, such as Match Week, during which students find out about residency placement.
“Finn pulls the whole library — and people from all the different departments [at the School of Medicine] — together as a unit,” Norton said.
Before Finn started coming regularly to the Medical Library in 2014, he participated in therapy dog programs in Boston, said Krista Knudson, Finn’s owner. Once she moved to New Haven, Knudson said she was inspired by the therapy dog program at the Law Library to coordinate with the School of Medicine for a similar program.
Knudson said her progress to the library is often halted by a “gaggle” of students, who routinely wait on the front steps of the School of Medicine for Finn.
“In the fall semester, my friends and I would always come to the library after class to see Finn,” Laura Mark SPH ’16 said. “He’s a great reminder of things that we’re supposed to enjoy that can often be overshadowed.”
Finn was featured on the “For the Love of Pets” segment of the Today Show in 2014.