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Therapaws event prompts smiles all around

Mild-mannered dogs offer a relaxing break for students, faculty, staff

Ann Arbor, Mich. – May 4, 2016 – The tail-wagging and ear-to-ear smiles in the School of Dentistry’s Student Forum on a day in mid-April provided a heart-warming, if not scientific, confirmation that dogs have a soothing effect on many people.

The stress of coursework, finals prep and the everyday workload was put on hold – perhaps it could be called a ‘paws’ – as students, faculty and staff stopped to offer and receive some love from a room full of mild-mannered dogs brought in by Therapaws of Michigan.  From bright-eyed lapdogs to the bigger Labrador and golden retrievers, the dogs offered a petting festival that included lots of tummy rubs and some all-out hugs from the dentistry participants. In some of the photos posted on the School of Dentistry Flickr site, it’s tough to tell whether the dental students or the happily-panting dogs have the bigger smiles as they interact.

This was the second time the School of Dentistry has offered the dog-related De-Stress Day. The first was last December as finals week and the holiday season approached. Each two-hour session has drawn more than 100 participants, according to Charlene Erickson, student administrative assistant in Academic Affairs – Pathways Administration.  Erickson is part of the Academic Affairs Community Engagement Committee, which initiates a variety of goodwill and public service events throughout the school each year.

Erickson said the dog de-stress events have been particularly well-received by students. 

“The biggest thing is that a lot of them say, ‘This makes me miss my dog at home.’ Or they say that it is just a nice little break from the pressure of exams,” she said.

Milad Karim, finishing his first year, made a point of putting the dog event on his calendar to provide a break in his studies and because he often goes several weeks or a month between visits home to see his Shetland sheepdog.  “It was really perfect timing for the D1's because the event was just before a big practical that had everyone very worried and stressed,” he said. “It was great to spend a little time with the sweet dogs who were equally excited to see all of the students as it was for the students to see them.”

Ryan Keener, also a D1, called the dog event “awesome.”  “It was the perfect way to ease the stress before our last practical of our first year,” he said. Like Karim, Keener hopes the Therapaw visits continue, although he takes it one step further: “I'm thankful our school provides us fun things like this to ease the stress, although I do wish (the dogs) could always be there!” he said.

Therapaws of Michigan is an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that uses canine-assisted therapy to promote and foster the human-animal bond in therapeutic and educational settings.  Originally started in 1980s as a service for local hospital patients, today the organization’s approximately 100 volunteers take their dogs on visits to schools, libraries, extended care facilities, rehabilitation centers and hospice providers, among others.

A third dog de-stress event will be set up near the end of the year, Erickson said.