December 10, 2013

Students relax with Cagney, Connie Cuff's golden retriever.

By Matt Hughes

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The first floor of Bucknell's Bertrand Library is always a hive of activity, and as finals week approaches it gets even louder and livelier. But Monday, it really went to the dogs. 

Students filing through Bertrand's lobby Monday evening were greeted by golden retrievers, Bernese mountain dogs and a pack of assorted pooches ranging from a petite shih tzu to a massive Italian mastiff.

The canines were all certified therapy dogs brought to campus by members of the Susquehanna Trail Dog Training Club. Sponsored by Bucknell Psychological Services, the event offered students a momentary reprieve from the pressure of writing final papers and studying for exams.

"There's a whole approach that a lot of us use called animal therapy, and a lot of counseling centers actually have dogs and cats that are part of their staff," said staff psychologist Marina Shafran. "Something about touching an animal is very soothing, so if you put them in a session, people can't help but start petting them, and then they really calm down."

The throng of students crowding the lobby could hardly resist, gathering around in twos and threes to touch the dogs.

"It's definitely helpful in terms of stress," said Michelle Lin '17. "And for people who have dogs, it's a nice dose of home."

Dog training club members have been bringing their pets to campus for nearly a decade, and Psychological Services now sponsors two such sessions per semester. In addition to their finals week visit, the dogs also come to campus after long breaks, when pet-owning students might get homesick. As Haley Thomas '14 put it succinctly, "You can text people back home, but you can't pet your dog."

And, according to dog trainer Connie Cuff, the dogs gain as much from attending as students do. "He loves to come here," Cuff said of Cagney, the golden retriever at her side. "I put a scarf on him and he knows he's going to visit. He just loves the companionship of people."

Cagney, lying on his back while two students rubbed his belly, seemed to agree.

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