Therapy dog session aims to reduce students’ midterm stress

Mary Beth Napier, a volunteer for Rainbow Animal Assistance Therapy, community provider for CAPS and practicing psychologist, with her dog Rainbow.

Junnie Kwon/The Daily Northwestern

Mary Beth Napier, a volunteer for Rainbow Animal Assistance Therapy, community provider for CAPS and practicing psychologist, with her dog Rainbow.

Junnie Kwon, Reporter

The Foster-Walker Complex staff sponsored a therapy dogs session for its residents Wednesday night to alleviate the stressful environment of midterms week.

Volunteers for Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy, an Illinois nonprofit corporation of 260 dogs, brought six dogs to the ground floor of Foster-Walker Complex. A circle of students surrounded each dog and its supervisor from the organization.

Inspired by her relationship with her own dog, Tiffany Gonzales, area coordinator for Foster-Walker and Seabury Apartments, came up with the idea of bringing therapy dogs to the residence hall as a stress-reliever for students. She started planning the event in December.

“Students aren’t able to see their pets from home and, knowing how much I love my animal, I thought this would be a great event,” she said. “Around this time students get a little sad, it gets cold, so why not bring this joy to students.”

She said the Foster-Walker hall government backed the idea of bringing dogs to campus. Gonzales then reached out to Rainbow AAT, which has brought dogs to campus four times. However, this is the program’s first time bringing dogs to a residence hall.

The six dogs present were a part of a crisis response team of 15 dogs in the organization, team coordinator Cindy Gross said. The dogs on the team receive special training in addition to the certification requirements of membership in Rainbow AAT. The training includes working with fire and police departments and riding multiple types of transportation with the ultimate goal of giving comfort to victims of a crisis or disaster.

Gross said Illinois universities started contacting Rainbow AAT when the organization worked with students at Northern Illinois University after the school shooting in 2008. However, administrators have only been welcoming of the four-legged guests in the last two years, she said. In the 25 years that Rainbow AAT has been in existence, only two biting incidents have occurred, and in both situations the human had bitten the dog, Gross said.

Everybody is smiling, it’s good to see people can come in, and they’re kind of dragged out. Its wonderful what a dog can do by just being a dog,” she said.

Mary Beth Napier, a volunteer for Rainbow AAT at the event, said dog therapy has been scientifically proven to help relieve stress. She was particularly excited about coming to Northwestern as a community provider for Counseling and Psychological Services and a practicing psychologist.

“I see a lot of Northwestern students and I know this is a stressful time for students, so I was thrilled when I found out Tiffany contacted Rainbow,” she said. “We’d be happy to host other events on campus as well.”

The turnout for the therapy dogs session was better than it had been for other programs sponsored by the Foster-Walker staff, Gonzales said. Most students attending the event expressed excitement about interacting with pets on campus.

“This is such a good idea, because we can not be stressed out around puppies,” said Megan Barstead, a McCormick senior. “I wish they would do this more often and not just at Plex.”

The Student Life Committee in the Associated Student Government is in the beginning stages of possibly sponsoring a similar program during finals week.