UB students can now turn to Dani, a therapy dog, for stress release and loving care

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Starting this week, students and staff at the University of Bridgeport can feel better with a little tender, loving care from Dani, a registered therapy dog who will be on call at the school’s Counseling Office.

The sable-and-white collie arrives at noon on Tuesday, September 9.

Throughout the year, she will keep office hours at Carstensen Hall from noon until 2 p.m. every other Tuesday. No appointment is necessary: Dani is in for those who need her — students, faculty, and staff alike.

“We’re pleased to have Dani join our counseling staff,” said Jessica Mills, director of Counseling and Disability Services at UB. “There’s so much research out there that shows the benefits of animal-assisted therapy. Petting a dog helps to ease stress and helps students to adjust to homesickness, which can be a biggie.  They help people feel connected, and they ease the mind for some. Therapy dogs are quiet. They don’t bark. They let people come to them and give them a sense of calm.”

At two years old, Dani is already “very experienced” as a therapy dog, said her owner Dennis Gallagher.

She volunteers in Newton, Connecticut, and was called in to meet with students at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Connecticut, two communities that were shaken by school shootings in the past few years. She meets with patients at Bridgeport Hospital, and listens to children practice reading at Edith Wheeler Memorial Library in Monroe, Connecticut, and two times a year, she visits Hillcrest Middle School in Trumbull, Connecticut.

After successfully completing extensive obedience training and a rigorous evaluation, Dani passed her “good citizenship” canine test and became certified as a therapy dog with Pet Partners®, a national group. She’s also certified with Intermountain Therapy Animals.

At UB, she will simply listen and snuggle with anyone who needs a furry connection.

With drop-in visits, it’s possible that students may not always have one-on-one time with her. But “that’s good, too,” Mills pointed out. “Dani can be a way for students to connect with each other.”

From a non-scientific stand-point, snuggling with a dog just feels good. After all, dogs are soft, cute, and judgment-free. Just failed a test? Dumped by a girlfriend? Struggling to find a job to pay for tuition or meet a deadline? Dogs like Dani dispense kindness no matter what.

From a medical perspective, animal therapy works because interacting with pets lowers the stress hormone cortisol, while boosting endorphins, a happiness hormone, research has found.

After volunteering with therapy dogs for 15 years, Gallagher has seen the positive impact dogs can have on those in pain. He said Dani enjoys the work, too, but likes to decompress after hours. “She wears a working vest and understands when she is going to work, but when I bring her home, she’s a dog,” he said. “She runs around.”

Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, lgeary@bridgeport.edu

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