Oklahoma State University Launches Nation’s Most Comprehensive University-Wide Pet Therapy Program
Thirteen lovable, highly-trained dogs lead Oklahoma State University’s premier class of therapy dogs becoming the nation’s most comprehensive, full-time, university-wide pet therapy program.
The pet therapy pack is called Pete’s Pet Posse, named after OSU’s iconic school mascot Pistol Pete. Pete’s Pet Posse is an integral part of the university’s wellness commitment as America’s Healthiest Campus® and is designed to help students, faculty, staff and campus visitors overcome emotional and stressful situations.
“As America’s Healthiest Campus one of our biggest priorities is the emotional health and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff. The dogs from Pete’s Pet Posse have already made an impact on the emotional health of the OSU campus and we’ve only just begun,” said Ann Hargis, OSU First Lady and a Pete’s Pet Posse handler. “Many of the dogs in Pete’s Pet Posse are rescues, just like our dog Scruff. The pet therapy program at OSU allows these dogs and their handlers, in true Cowboy spirit, to give back to the community that rescued them.”
“Pete’s Pet Posse is a pro-active pet therapy program not a reactive dog therapy program,” said Lara Sypniewski, DVM, Henthorne Clinical Professor of Small Animal Medicine, OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital. “Most programs bring in therapy pets only during high stress times like finals week. At OSU we know there is always anxiety on any campus so our program has dogs and their owner/handlers strategically deployed across the campus to be prepared when the need arises.”
Research shows that animals can reduce stress and lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol. Dogs from Pete’s Pet Posse are located with their volunteer owner/handler in a variety of campus departments on a regular basis. Each department determines how the dogs will be used. In some departments the dogs are regulars to greet students, staff and guests. The well-trained animals have been used in new employee orientation classes, residence halls, the library, the Student Union, and greeting families as they arrive for new student orientation. More than 150 official pet therapy visits are recorded in the pilot phase of the program.
“On occasion, I have requested one of the dogs to come up to my office for a meeting with a student. Students that have experienced a significant loss or difficult problems often find it comforting to pet the dog during our discussions. Dogs provide unconditional love, never judge and always keep confidences, said Dr. Lee Bird, OSU Vice President of Student Affairs. “
During Spring break 2014, Pete’s Pet Posse was called into a tragic situation when a student from the Gamma Phi Beta sorority was killed by a drunk driver. “The dogs came to the sorority house and brought smiles to our faces in the midst of our grief. Thirty to 40 girls huddled around the therapy dogs. They gave us unconditional love and didn’t look at us like they didn’t know what to say to us, that really helped,” said Haley Reaves, Gamma Phi Beta Junior.
“Oklahoma State University’s pet therapy program is unique because it is campus-wide and our goal is to extend it system-wide across all of our multiple campuses. The success of the program already makes it one of the core elements of caring for the emotional wellbeing of students, faculty, staff and guests and is integral to OSU being America’s Healthiest Campus,” said Dr. Suzy Harrington, OSU Chief Wellness Officer.
All Pete’s Pet Posse dogs are volunteers who live with their owners/handlers and come to campus to serve. Each dog and handler team undergoes intensive training in partnership with the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and must pass certification standards to wear the Pete’s Pet Posse orange therapy dog vest.
OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital provides wellness care for each dog, including a thorough physical exam and diagnostics such as heartworm testing, tick borne disease assessment, and intestinal parasite screening. The Veterinary Medical Hospital is committed to the health of the Posse and also provides a monthly food stipend, a microchip, necessary vaccinations, monthly heartworm and flea/tick prevention, and deworming. http://pettherapy.okstate.edu