By Shannon Frost Greenstein
Rachel Daltry, Psy.D., is a psychologist in the counseling center at West Chester University.
She’s also a dog mama.
Understandably, then, she was attracted to one of the fledgling programs at WCU…a volunteer bringing a therapy dog to campus once a semester.
Now, anyone who has a dog might be able to understand the benefit of this…unrestrained joy, complete acceptance, and a total lack of judgment. For college students struggling with the pressure of school and young adulthood, it makes perfect sense that a fuzzy bundle of unconditional love would help to deal with those stressors.
Shortly after coming to WCU, Rachel lost her dog. Devastated, she began to consider adopting another rescue. However, she was also dreaming of expanding the WCU Therapy Dog program, to have more dogs, coming more often, to participate in actual therapy.
Enter Muddy Puddles.
Mudd was to be Rachel’s new companion, but more than that, he was to be the catalyst for growing the WCU Therapy Dog program by leaps and bounds.
The brain and muscle behind the entire program, Rachel started bringing Mudd with her to work. He sits in on individual therapy sessions, group therapy, and a sexual assault survivor’s workshop. There is a group, comprised of stressed-out college students, which meet with Muddy Puddles to practice mindfulness…that is, to be present in the moment and not to judge one’s thoughts or natural reactions. It teaches them to slow down and examine such innate tendencies as perfectionism, which typically and negatively impact students of that age.
Meanwhile, the therapy dog program has grown to include 3 dogs, which come to campus monthly. Rachel has found the program is actually promoting diversity, as students of different races, faiths, and political beliefs can all come together to benefit from the therapy animals. It’s a way to connect, in which everyone stands on equal footing.
An added benefit of the therapy dogs, and Muddy Puddles in particular, is that they provide a respite of light for students who may be having a hard time and are consumed with dark thoughts. Rachel says, “I get to see students happy for a chance. They get a moment of relief.”
The program has made such a difference, it’s even been written up in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, as a model for success and how other universities can recreate the initiative.
At the end of the day, the WCU therapy dogs help people. For students dealing with the pressure of school, and growing up in general, the stress can occasionally be intolerable. With Muddy Puddles, and the other therapy dogs, men and women can help process and relieve that stress with animals that soothe and comfort.
Plus…well, dogs. They’re awesome.
Here’s some major congratulations for Rachel, for making a difference on college campuses, and let’s not forget about the furry friends who make it all possible. Visit West Chester’s Counseling page for more information on Dog Therapy outreach, and remember…animals are great support, and natural stress-relievers, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a similar program if you’re in need!