Photo Caption: Marijke, Pearl (dog), Susie, Dublin (dog), Laurie, and CB (dog) in front of the W at UWB – Picture credit Jerry Liu
Accompanied by a handler, the College Dogs stars met stressed UW students with a smile brighter than the summer sun. They told us interesting stories about how to heal humans and their experiences so far.
By: Austin Bretting, Jerry Liu, Sinrou Yang, and Emiko Nokes, University of Washington Bothell School of Business
We checked into our small, secluded classroom at the University of Washington Bothell, and sad shoulder to shoulder with out classmates at each table. Everyone was anticipating meeting our special guests of the day, dogs. At exactly 6 o’clock in the evening, the room rose with excitement. The stars of the show arrived with big smiles and wagging tails. No one could no longer take their eyes off of the three Woofers.
CB, an experienced Portuguese Water Dog with brown curly hair, lied down so we could lean against her for easy petting. Next to her, Laurie, a handler with blue curly hair, was laughing hysterically. Pearl, a Bernese Mountain Dog, had a very gentle personality. Perhaps her gentleness was due to the fact that she was concerned about not scaring the students away from her large body covered in black, white, and brown fur. She was was like a giant stuffed animal, which comforted us. Because Pearl knew her athleticism and strength, she had her handler, Malijke, dress comfortably in a T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. Dublin, a white golden retriever, greeted everyone with his droopy, bushy ears and wagging tail, as he was accompanied by his handler, Susie. Many of us were soothed by Dublin and wished we could take him home. After introducing themselves to the students, the three fluffy dogs, still slobbering with excitement, shared their experiences about what it is like to be a college dog.
CB’s handler, Laurie Hardman, created a program called College Dogs throughout the Seattle Metropolitan area that allows certified therapy dog to interact with college students who are experiencing anxiety and depression. The dogs are mainly responsible for helping students deal with any stress from factors such as school, being away from family and friends, or adapting to a new lifestyle. With many therapeutic sessions of belly rubs, the dogs are non-judgmental pals to the students, ready to share love with anyone willing to receive it. Through the perspectives of Pearl, CB, and Dublin, we were able to understand the daily life experiences of a College Dog.
What made you decide to join College Dogs?
Dublin: My handler, Susie convinced me that I would be useful at College Dogs because of how helpful I was with her kids before they went off to college.
Pearl: I was first inspired by my brother, Wynston, who was a therapy dog. He found a lot of success and joy working for College Dogs. My friends, Little Bear, Murray, and Kai, who are also Bernese Mountain Dogs, kept telling me they were having so much fun visiting with students and making them smile, so I wanted to try it, too. I am a pretty chill dog, so I thought this was something that I can really do as well. Me and Marijke ended up really loving it, and that’s why I am here today.
What are some of the activities of College Dogs?
CB: We offer our time and attention to college students and our visits are about helping them through hard times and stress. It is great to just hangout with them. Most of the time, especially for me, we like to park ourselves in one spot and have the students come up to us.
How long have you been trained? What kind of training do you go through?
CB: We’re all certified and we are always in a form of training when we do our visits to the campuses. The most important thing is that we get along with and listen to our humans and they know and can handle how we might react to certain situations.
Dublin: For me, it was waiting until I was older. My pet human, Susie, said we didn’t start right away due to the COVID pandemic, and I was a puppy. I think waiting made it easier for both of us when we started training.
CB: However, some dogs like my brother, Fido, who is at home right now, started when he was 9 weeks old. He started out by doing visits at the hospital and was really good at interacting with all the humans. When he got older though, he started becoming a little wild, and he just wants to party if there were other dogs in the room, even if it is only me and he sees me every day at home.
Pearl: Like CB said, our relationship with our handler is the most important thing. We have to know not to go running down a hallway after food or lunge at someone. For the therapy dog certification, we are observed in different environments. Marijke also tested me in different situations outside of the certification to see how I would react when startled. We visited her mom in assisted living so I could get used to wheelchairs and medical equipment too. We want to be prepared.
Have you or any other dogs alongside you struggled to become a therapy dog or struggle in the field?
CB: Yes, sometimes we struggle as dogs to succeed in the therapy field, but we are never alone in this journey because of the great support from our handlers. Although we may struggle at times, we have our handlers to look up to for guidance in becoming therapy dogs. We rely on them to make sure we are in a safe environment as we work together as a team to become certified.
Have you or your pet human experienced any mistakes in your visits?
CB: I personally have not had any mistakes happen while working for College Dogs, and my Laurie, she has been a handler for awhile and since she started the organization in 2010 there haven’t been any incidents. There are rules we follow that help prevent accidents from happening, like we aren’t allowed to play with toys during visits so we don’t get too rowdy or potentially cause something bad to happen. We also calm each other down. I always lay down on the ground and the calmness spreads to my fellow college dogs too.
Pearl: We do keep our distance from each other too so that we don’t rile each other up in case something happens to one of us. If I see a dog within my field of vision acting up, then I think it is time to act up, so that is why we keep our distance to prevent that.
What is the reaction of students who meet you during visits?
CB: Well, if I had gotten a treat for every time a picture was taken of me, I would be a very large dog. You can tell they are really excited when they see us! I’ll happily have 25 to 30 students surrounding me while I lay on the floor.
Pearl: I can remember a specific time when I was doing a job at either the medical school or law school at UW Seattle, and I had spent time with a girl who seemed really stressed out from what was going on in her life. I was able to sense something was off in her life and she just sat quietly with me with very slow tears going down her face while she was petting me. After about 25 minutes. I felt that something had lifted from her and she quietly got up and thanked me and my pet human for the opportunity to spend time with me. A part of me wanted to make sure she would be okay outside of our event, like should we follow her? Or let her know that she can stay here longer if she wants. Being able to do events with college dogs makes me happy knowing that we can cheer up someone going through a really tough time and seeing the smiles on all the students faces make me a very happy dog.
We would like to thank CB, Dublin, and Pearl for their time and also their pet humans Laurie, Susie, and Marijke. Upcoming visits and volunteer information can be found on the College Dogs website here.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and put into the lens of the dogs.
NAMI Seattle has an ongoing relationship with Professor Laura Umetsu and her writing students at UW Bothell. Umetsu’s students engage in destigmatizing mental health in alliance with NAMI while learning the importance of ethical business writing.
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This piece has been a collaborative effort between UW Bothell business writing students and NAMI Seattle. Special thanks Ashley Fontaine, Kayla Harris and Jennifer Sanchez-Tejada for mentoring and giving feedback to students.