A therapy-dog program started at Yale Law School has spread nationwide.
The Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School brought in its first therapy dog, Monty, in spring 2011, allowing students to “check out” Monty and play with him. One of the first university libraries to introduce a therapy-dog program, the law library attracted national attention and was featured in The New York Times and on National Public Radio following the program’s introduction. Four years into the program, the law library has inspired schools around the world, from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia to Harvard Medical School, to follow suit.
“We have come to realize that [the dog-therapy program] is something that is very important, in terms of students’ mental health and happiness,” said Julian Aiken, the law librarian who started the program and owns Monty. “For a lot of students it’s their first time away from home and they do miss their home comfort — families, pets. More and more schools are recognizing that [the program] is a small step towards helping with that … We want students to know we appreciate them as people, not just as students.”
Aiken said his goal is to make the law library “a third place” for students, a space they can turn to when not at home and or in the classroom. Students who have checked out time with Monty play with him in a designated room at the Law School.
Aiken added that Yale’s program has evolved since its first implementation, including adjusting Monty’s working hours and developing a retirement plan for the dog. Monty, who is now 16, retired in mid-2014, and the new dog Pippa is still undergoing training, Aiken said. Because of Monty’s retirement, students can no longer sign up for dog visits, but the school does bring in outside dogs for drop-in sessions on occasion. The check-out process will be resume once Pippa finishes training and starts work, Aiken said.
The Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library at the Yale School of Medicine also welcomed a furry face named Finn last year, after Aiken pointed Finn’s owner to the medical library. The library now hosts two therapy dogs, both named Finn.
The therapy-dog program at the medical school is less formal compared to the one at the Law School, said Melanie Norton, head of access and delivery services at the medical library. She added that rather than students checking out the dogs and signing up for play sessions, the dogs sit in front of the circulation desk for students to come and pet. One dog comes in on Fridays from noon to 2 p.m., and the other on Sunday nights.
“The therapy-dog program is not a trend but is here to stay,” Norton said, adding that the dogs have been well-received among students, who frequently line up waiting to pet the dogs.
Norton added that there is a high suicide rate among health care professionals and that dogs are brought in to ease the stress levels of medical students, they just make sure to keep the dogs safe at the same time, several guidelines are giving to the students in order to protect the dogs during therapy, one of them is not feeding the dogs with anything, some things like hostas are poisonous to dogs so it’s best to avoid them.
At an annual meeting of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries in October, Norton and fellow librarian Melissa Funaro gave a presentation on how medical libraries can offer students various stress-relief programs, primarily through therapy-dog programs. During their presentation, they noted that close to 10 percent of fourth-year medical students and interns reported having suicidal thoughts, and that two new doctors committed suicide in New York City last summer.
The Dorraine Zief Law Library at the University of San Francisco School of Law also followed Yale’s example. Co-director of the library Amy Wright said after hearing about Yale’s therapy-dog program, her library began partnering with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to bring in therapy dogs for law students during final exams. Wright added that the library does not require students to make appointments to visit the dog.
Femi Cadmus, associate dean for library services at the Cornell Law Library, said her colleagues asked her to start a similar therapy-pet program at the library.
Cadmus previously helped bring Monty to Yale with Aiken. Cornell’s law library has a therapy llama in addition to dogs. Therapy-pet sessions are hosted before exams, Cadmus said.
Law students said they greatly enjoy the dog therapy program. Nancy Tang LAW ’18, who attended a drop-in session at Yale’s law library, said the therapy-dog program is a creative idea and that students enjoy interacting with dogs.
Janny Leung LAW ’16 said having a therapy dog to help students relieve stress is better than mental-health therapy, because stress relief is preventive rather than reactive.
On Dec. 14, Pippa will be at Bass Library from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.