The group had just walked onto the pavilion grass when they were enthusiastically greeted by Riley, a yellow lab retriever, and Murphee, A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Soon, everyone was on the grass under the warm afternoon sun chatting and enjoying the company of their newfound furry friends.
The Therapy Dog program is back! After a year-long break, the program has made its grand return as of Thursday, Sept. 2, and students are already taking advantage of these loveable companions.
“This is the first day I’ve come. Overall it’s a huge change with school and it’s kinda been hard adjusting at times. As soon as I heard about this, I said that I needed to go today,” said freshman Akasha Ware as she stroked Riley’s back.
The Therapy Dog program has been part of the Castleton experience for the past four years with students previously being able to see the dogs on campus in the library during midterms and final exams. Students weren’t able to experience the Therapy Dogs last year due to COVID and schools shutting down.
“This is my first time at Therapy Dogs. I came just because transitioning to a new school after coming out of COVID had been hard,” said Taliah Dwyer, a sophomore transfer student. “With the workload, it’s nice to be able to go outside and de-stress, relax for a little while, hang out with some dogs, and have a good time.”
Riley’s handler, Barbara Scott, mentioned the positive impacts that the Therapy Dogs have on the students she’s worked with. It helped to develop relationships between the students, the handlers and the dogs, she said.
“The students would know her by name and would look forward to seeing her and I look forward to seeing them … Last year was hard with COVID we couldn’t come so we lost that time being with the students,” Scott said.
The group of smiling students each took turns playing and laughing as Riley went to greet them one by one. Both dogs laid on the grass just within petting distance
The students were chatting with the handlers about their own pets and school as they were getting to know more about each other.
“The kids will unwind, relax, and chill out. Some of them come to see the dogs but they end up starting to chat with other students and before the session is over, they plan to meet up and are exchanging phone numbers,” said Linda Barker, Murphee’s handler and the president for Caring Canines Therapy Dogs of Southern Vermont.
Barker mentioned seeing the effects of the Therapy Dogs on a particular student, who was terrified of the dogs, just before COVID hit.
“She didn’t want to get near them,” Barker said. “And by the end of the second or third time, she was then able to go up to the dogs and pet them and not leap back when they looked at her. Seeing somebody come around like that knowing that our dogs could bring that about in somebody and get rid of their fear is great.”
Students at the event also said the dogs helped to alleviate the stress they had felt throughout the week.
“I miss my dogs and it’s much harder to go home and see them,” said freshman Hayden Kwasniak. “Dogs just really boost my mood and make my day better and especially after a long week with three hours of labs and exhaustion.”
Students also mentioned that having the Therapy Dogs as a resource to cope with things like anxiety has been extremely beneficial to their well-being.
“Usually at home my dogs help with that, but since I’m here, it kinda helps if I’m really feeling down on certain days,” said senior Leon Bates while scratching Riley’s head.
Participants say the Therapy Dog program is highly recommended as part of your experience here. You can come for whatever you need. Whether you’re feeling stressed and worried about school, or way in over your head with social pressures, or if you just want more dogs in your life, this is a great event to attend every Thursday.
“It makes the students feel good if they’re having a bad day. They come and shower the dogs with love and their day gets better,” Barker said. “It’s a rewarding experience when interest is shown.”