Comfort dogs give students breaks from studying


Photo illustration: Blake Lanser/Iowa State Daily

Brooke Wacherbarth studies in the library while Tori and Libby keep her company. Therapy dogs will be present in Parks Library every day during Dead Week from 1 to 5 p.m. in room 192. 

Emily Eppens

Between the stress of studying for exams, writing papers and finishing final projects, some students are seeking a tail-wagging form of relief. 

To help students cope with the stresses of Dead Week, therapy dogs from all over the Des Moines area will be available to students 1-5 p.m. in room 192 in Parks Library.

Christine King, the chairwoman of the public relations committee at Iowa State, and Monica Gillen, the co-chairwoman of the public relations committee, understand the stress students are under and hope the dogs can help calm nerves and boost moods during Dead Week.

“There has been a lot of enthusiasm about this event,” Gillian said. “It’s gratifying to know that an event you plan has such a positive impact on students. It makes the job much more fun to put together.”

The dogs, ranging from dachshunds to golden retrievers, are required to have therapy certification from Therapy Dog International or the Canine Good Citizen Program and have passed rigorous testing before they are allowed to participate in the event.

This is the second semester of the comfort dogs and is an event King hopes will continue.

“I could definitely see this becoming a Dead Week tradition,” King said. “The dogs have been very well-behaved and the students love it.”

Last year, the most students attending the event at one time was estimated to be about 300, with more than 1,000 views on the event online.

“The response has been very rewarding,” Gillian said.

Students gathered in room 192 Dec. 2, to meet and play with the dogs. Some came for their love of animals, and others, like Brooklyn Wackerbarth, a sophomore in software engineering, came to step away from her stressful Dead Week studies. 

“This hasn’t been the best week ever,” Wackerbarth said. “It’s been pretty stressful. They should [bring in dogs] every week.” 

Wackerbarth said dogs are not allowed in her apartment and she is hoping to move to a pet-friendly apartment next year. Until then, she said the therapy dogs help her de-stress.

Students Yan Chan, freshman in computer science, and Scott Wells, freshman in mechanical engineering, said their Dead Week has not been too stressful, but they came for the dogs. 

“I wasn’t allowed to have pets growing up,” Chan said. “I want to own two of them when I’m older.”

Wells said the dogs help him because he misses his dog at home.

Mindy McCoy, a library assistant, said there are usually two to five dogs visiting at a time each day, each with their own shifts throughout the week.

“This event drew quite a crowd last year,” McCoy said. “We are all very excited to do this again.”

Sarah Trant, junior in interdisciplinary studies and the president of the Student Helping Rescue Animals club, said she is hoping to put together a similar event for students during midterm week next semester, but with rescue dogs from the Story County Animal Shelter, rather than therapy dogs.

“Events like the Comfort Dogs definitely help students,” Trant said. “Dogs and cats are really good to help de-stress and are proven to be beneficial to your health. They really work.”

Throughout the school year, the club runs a 5k to raise funds, as well as sets up a booth in Carver Hall to sell baked goods for the shelter. Trant hopes that she can someday use her love for dogs to become a canine officer.

“It’s been really fun to motivate people to really understand why we should be helping rescue animals,” Trant said. “I really do just love dogs.”

Tom Colvin, the executive director for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Inc., said animal adoptions heighten around the Christmas season and in the summer.

“I would safely say that over the years the ARL has seen more conscientious forethought about adoption than we did way back when,” Colvin said. “In the past, there were quite a few impulsive buys. Now, people who are thinking about adoption put a lot more thought into it. It’s been very positive for [the ARL].”

Before the animals at the ARL are put up for adoption, they are spayed/ neutered and put through a behavior assessment to inform the rescue service on what type of home the animal needs. After that, the potential owner fills out an application to make sure they would be a good fit for the animal. 

Colvin said if a college student is considering adoption, they should try to find a pet that matches their lifestyle and seriously consider the benefits and downfalls of having a pet. 

“We don’t want any adoptions to be thought of as temporary in any sense,” Colvin said. “The thought process should be that I’m going to keep this pet and keep it with them when they go to their next level after graduation, by all means, adopt.”