'Therapaws' dogs return to provide exam relief

By Parisha Nova, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 9, 2014

A number of dogs were on hand at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library on Monday to provide some extra love to students stressed by impending final exams.

The dogs were provided by Therapaws of Michigan, an Ann Arbor-based organization that brings teams of dogs and their owners to visit schools, health care facilities and libraries. The organization first started by bringing dogs to see patients at the University of Michigan Health System.

“Therapaws hosts therapy dogs, not service dogs,” said Jan Collins, a Therapaws volunteer who brought her dog Cooper to the event. “This means that they love to be pet and love to give love back.”

Therapaws dogs, along with their owners, must pass extensive tests administered through the national organization Therapy Dogs Inc. to qualify for the volunteer opportunity. They then complete trial runs at local nursing homes, where their reactions to strangers are evaluated for their ease in interacting with new people.

“It is important to have a dog who is really calm, likes people and can enjoy being around all sorts of sights and sounds,” said Sue Zieske, who brought her dog Darla to the UGLi on Monday.

Zieske also mentioned the importance of a good fit between the owner and the dog.

“You have to have the right dog,” she said. “You wait for the right dog to come along, a dog that is cut out for this.”

Collins and Zieske noted the importance of a source of stress relief during finals week.

“They are supposed to distract the students, give them a change of pace, get them away from exams for a little bit,” Collins said. “A lot of students miss their pets at home so they really appreciate seeing an animal here.”

Event organizer Jerry Nordblom, a member of the Therapaws board of directors, said the dogs are not trained but rather extensively tested. He said the dogs love assignments like campus visits, as visiting hospitals can be more stressful for the canines. However, he said the dogs visibly appreciate visiting a vibrant college campus and being pet by students.

Therapaws also has other assignments in nursing homes, hospitals, children’s hospitals and elementary schools. Children who have difficulty reading also sit down with therapy dogs and read to them as part of a program hosted by Therapaws.

The dogs will be back on the first floor of the UGLi on Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.