By Dr. Becker
Many colleges these days recognize that students miss their pets when they go off to school. Coming home to the unconditional love of a dog, cat, or other companion animal is the perfect antidote for a long, stressful day – especially for new college students who often feel insecure and overwhelmed as they make the transition to campus life.
Pete’s Pet Posse is a pack of loving and lovable therapy dogs that hang out at Oklahoma State University as part of the nation’s “most comprehensive, full-time, and university-wide pet therapy program.”1
There are 13 highly trained dogs in the Posse, which was named after OSU’s school mascot, Pistol Pete. The dogs, many of which are rescues, are considered an essential part of the university’s commitment to wellness. The program was created to help students, faculty, staff, and visitors cope with emotional and stressful situations.
According to Ann Hargis, OSU First Lady and a therapy dog handler herself:
“As America’s Healthiest Campus® one of our biggest priorities is the emotional health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. The dogs from Pete’s Pet Posse have already made an impact on the emotional health of the OSU campus and we’ve only just begun.”2
Pet Away Worry and Stress
Pets have long been recognized as sort of natural tranquilizers with the ability to lower blood pressure and stress hormones. In fact, during particularly demanding times, like finals week, many colleges bring therapy animals on campus to help students cope with the pressure they feel to perform well.
Pete’s Pet Posse Dogs Live at Home with Their Owners or Handlers
All Pete’s Pet Posse dogs live with their owners or handlers and travel to the OSU campus to work. Each dog/handler team receives extensive training and must pass certification standards.
The OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital provides nose-to-tail wellness care for the dogs, who receive regular physical exams and tests for heartworm, tick-borne illness, and intestinal parasites. The veterinary hospital also microchips each dog and provides a monthly food allowance and health-related services as required.
OSU’s Pet Therapy Program Is Proactive Vs. Reactive
The Posse is a proactive vs. reactive pet therapy program. Most similar programs bring in therapy pets only during high stress periods, for example, finals week, or after an unexpected, stressful incident on campus.
The OSU program differs in that it is designed to address the chronic anxiety that exists on all college campuses at all times.
The dogs and their volunteer owners or handlers are positioned at strategic locations throughout the campus. It is up to each department to decide how the dogs will be used. For example, some work as daily greeters, while others are present at new employee orientation classes, in residence halls, the library, and the student union. The dogs also greet families as they arrive for new student orientation.
Posse Dogs Offer Students Unconditional Love Without Judgment
Sometimes a dog is called to the office of OSU staff or faculty for an anticipated difficult or emotional meeting with a student. Students who have experienced a significant loss or other difficult problem often find comfort in petting a therapy dog during the meeting. As all of us who love dogs can attest, canine companions offer unconditional love and do not judge us.
During spring break in 2014, an OSU sorority student was tragically killed by a drunk driver. Pete’s Pet Posse arrived at the sorority house to comfort the student’s friends in their grief. “They gave us unconditional love and didn’t look at us like they didn’t know what to say to us. That really helped,” said a sorority sister.3
OSU’s ultimate goal is to extend their very successful pet therapy program system-wide across all of their campuses.