Dogs help students deal with death

Jackie Valley

Their tears turned to smiles.

That is how Kathy Adamle, assistant professor in the College of Nursing and founder of Dogs on Campus Pet Therapy, described the students who participated in the pet therapy program following the deaths of two freshmen girls.

Victoria Hunt, a resident of Koonce Hall, died Oct. 1 in a car accident as she was on her way home to Orrville. One week later, Elizabeth Faulkner, a resident of Clark Hall, was killed when a drunk driver hit the passenger side of the car she was riding in while she was in her hometown of Mount Gilead.

This was the first time the pet therapy program, which began last year, has been used in response to a death, Adamle said.

“The residence hall directors called me and asked if we could come on the spur of the moment,” Adamle said.

Because of the circumstances, the visit was only for the floors where the girls had lived, not the entire residence hall.

Amy Quillin, associate director of residence services, said the general reasoning for the pet therapy following the student deaths was that the dogs had been on campus before and students had indicated that the sessions had been very therapeutic.

During the visit with the affected students, Adamle said the dogs sat with individual students, put their heads in the students’ laps and licked the students’ faces.

“It was just heartwarming,” she said. “And I hope the students felt the same.”

Freshman fashion merchandising major Sarah Turk, who attended the pet therapy session, lived a couple doors down from Hunt in Koonce Hall.

“It was really helpful and really effective because animals usually always make people happy,” Turk said.

“I think it brought an all-around happiness to the floor.”

Junior nursing major Ashley Laughlin, a resident assistant in Koonce Hall, said the pet therapy also brought the girls together.

“The dogs brought smiles to faces, which was exactly what they needed,” Laughlin said.

The dogs, all certified by the Delta Society, an organization that promotes the use of therapy and service animals, know they serve a purpose, Adamle said, adding that the dogs showed a heightened sense of awareness when visiting the affected students.

She cited the human-animal bond as one of the reasons behind the success of such programs during times of stress or grief.

“I think dogs are non-judgmental, always loving, always forgiving, consistent creatures who have the ability to absorb your stress and to absorb your emotions,” she said.

This pet therapy program is the only documented university therapy program in the country, Adamle said.

Pet therapy is already used in hospitals, nursing homes, Alzheimer’s centers and grade schools.

The therapy is offered by appointment only and must be requested for halls by a residence hall director. Student organizations and faculty members can also request visits by the dogs.

“Pets are part of a support system at home,” Adamle said. “The point of bringing pet therapy here was to bridge that gap.

“This is not a program to promote students to buy animals.”

Contact news correspondent Jackie Valley at [email protected].