Take a walk in UTC’s new library and you’ll find shelves and shelves of books, dozens of computer terminals, cozy seating areas, and if you’re lucky, a furry friend waiting patiently for some hugs and pets. Thanks to the work of the University’s librarians and the help from a non-profit group, therapeutic visitation dogs are now a regular staple at the library.
Therapeutic visitation dogs (or therapy dogs, as they’re more commonly known) are animals trained to provide comfort and companionship in a variety of settings. The library partners with the Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee (H.A.B.I.T.), a program affiliated with the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
Volunteers provide pet visitations to nursing homes, assisted-living residences, retirement centers, rehabilitation facilities, hospital settings, and other facilities across the state of Tennessee. Studies have shown that visits from therapy dogs can provide stress relief, relieve anxiety and lower blood pressure.
The first visit from a therapy dog happened during finals week in spring of last year. According to Chantelle Swaren, UTC Assessment and Outreach Librarian, library staff talked about the idea for more than a year before bringing an animal to the facility.
“Other colleges and libraries have been hosting therapy dogs for years, but we needed to make sure that there was a desire for this type of program at UTC. In the first visit, we had 375 students in four hours! We’ve consistently had high turnout for each of our dog visits. At this week’s visit, we had 80 people visit with the dog during her 90-minute visit to campus. There’s clearly a demand for this type of stress relief at UTC,” she said.
Swaren herself has seen the positive benefits of the visitations.
“All of the feedback from students, faculty, and staff has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve personally heard so many wonderful comments from students on each visit and it’s astounding to see the difference in mood even a short visit can have. I’ve observed students walk into the library looking very serious and become surprised and overjoyed to see the dogs. Watching that transformation has been heartwarming, and I’ve seen it dozens of times,” she said.
“We have one student who has come for every single dog visit. He never misses them! This week, I heard quite a few comments from students that made me realize that there’s a need for visits throughout the semester, not just at finals. Someone said, ‘I really needed this this week.’ Another, ‘I have a test in 20 minutes, I need to hug the dog for good luck,” she continued.
“These visits are a great way for students to interact with each other. There’s always a few people around petting the dog, and I’ve seen students connect with each other over their shared love of animals. Students who may not have any classes together, or may not participate in the same activities, can meet in this way—dogs are the great equalizer. One of the best benefits of going to college is meeting and connecting with a diverse group of people, and this is another way for students to do this,” Swaren said.
Due to positive response to the program, the library has increased the number of visits this semester to every two weeks. The next visits are on Monday, February 9, from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. and Thursday, February 19, from 1 – 2:30 p.m.