One of the hardest things about being a reporter is getting sources to talk.
Now that I’ve been doing this for almost two years, I’ve encountered my fair share of people who just don’t want to talk to me. Following a college tea last spring, I asked a student for his thoughts on the speaker, and he declined to comment by telling me that he had a “phobia of being quoted in the YDN.” And at a Yale Political Union debate last month, I chipperly approached a YPU member in my Yale Daily News zip-up sweater after the event wrapped up to get some thoughts on how it had gone. Our conversation went something like this:
“Hi, I’m a reporter for the YDN —”
I had never, ever encountered a source who stayed silent but gave me all the information I needed — that was, until I met Jozy.
At noon on Thursday — just a week before Valentine’s Day — I walked up to the third-floor library at the Sterling Law Building. It was there that I met Jozy, a precious white ball of fur who was sitting on the couch next to a remarkably happy-looking law student.
Jozy jumped off of the couch and walked over to me. I ran my fingers through the Pomeranian mix’s fluffy white fur, and then did what any responsible reporter would do: I asked him for a quote to add some color to my article. He didn’t say a word, but he did something that reluctant sources generally don’t do — Jozy looked up at me and smiled.
My heart melted.
The look Jozy gave me is what Julian Aiken, the Law Library’s assistant director for access and faculty services, calls Jozy’s “dolphin” smile. About once every month, stressed-out law students come to Librarian Teresa Miguel-Stearns’ office to visit Jozy, the library’s resident therapy dog. There, they are greeted by his heartwarming, dolphin-like smile and his warm and comforting demeanor.
Jozy is the library’s fourth therapy dog since the dawn of the Law School’s therapy dog program. In 2011, Yale became the first law school in the country to have such a program, which was Aiken’s brainchild.
When Aiken first began working at the Law School, he often took his Jack Russell/border terrier mix Monty on walks through downtown New Haven. Aiken would often encounter Yale students who got excited when they saw Monty and asked to pet or play with him. It was from these encounters that Aiken said the “germ of the idea” for the therapy dog program was planted. He approached the library director at the time with his proposition, who was surprised but enthusiastic about the potential program, Aiken said.
After Monty got the appropriate certifications and the library addressed logistical issues like insurance, it ran a two-week pilot program in which students could make appointments individually or in small groups to come to Aiken’s office and visit Monty.
Word soon got out about the program. Soon enough, the Law Library was inundated with queries from national media outlets, and Aiken became the informal advisor for librarians across the world — including librarians from Sweden, Japan and the U.K. — who wanted help starting similar programs at their own university libraries.
Eventually, Aiken began to notice the fatigue Monty experienced after many sessions in a row, which led the library to reduce their number. However, Aiken said, they also realized that “many people wanted to have puppy fun,” and began to offer periodic two-hour drop-in sessions during lunchtime, which were advertised to students in emails to the Law School community.
But as Monty grew older and “grouchier,” Aiken said, it became more and more apparent that it was time for him to retire and pass on the therapy baton to another dog. Before Jozy came onto the scene, two other dogs did brief stints at the library. Ultimately, neither of them could stick around due to scheduling issues.
Tina Severson, director of recruitment programs and administration at the Law School and Jozy’s owner, said that she has had many dogs throughout her lifetime and had always thought that training dogs for therapy purposes was “such a cool thing.” But it wasn’t until she adopted Jozy that she felt she had a dog with a suitable temperament for the occupation. It’s good that Jozy stayed silent when I met him — a good therapy dog must know not to bark, bite or lick the people it comes into contact with at work, Severson said.
“He was very connected to me, very obedient,” Severson said. “He understands that this is a job. He comes here, he behaves … He’s kind of naughty at home — he steals our socks and things like that. But here, he knows this is his job. They’ll walk into the room and he’ll go and greet them, and he’ll sit down and they’ll pet him, and he knows. He smiles for every selfie.”
Aiken — who said that he is unbiased because Jozy is not his pet — called Jozy “the perfect dog.” Above all, Aiken said, Jozy is “a professional.”
Although it may seem niche, strange or out of place, Jozy’s monthly presence at the Law Library contributes to a goal that many librarians, Aiken included, have when it comes to shaping library culture. According to Aiken, some librarians seek to make libraries fit the architectural concept of a “third space” — that is, a place where people come not for the purposes of living or working, but rather for some other purpose, like studying, socializing or just enjoying themselves.
“It’s an opportunity to make the library a third space,” Aiken said. “A student is a whole person rather than someone who just comes and check out books. At the library here, we created all kinds of programs that were designed to make students’ lives better … I think the dog is kind of an extension of that. We’re trying to make the library a center for students — where they feel comfortable knowing that we’re trying to meet their needs. That’s why, for us, the library is a natural space to center this program.”
You can follow Jozy on Instagram: @thek9counselor.
Asha Prihar | firstname.lastname@example.org .