Knox College Counseling Services has begun offering pet therapy to students who want to spend time with a four-legged friend—to be specific, a specially trained, 5-year-old dog named Olive.
“Olive is an extrovert and loves being around people,” says Claire Palmer, who is Olive’s owner and the intake coordinator at Counseling Services. ”She’s very gentle, loving, and playful.”
Olive’s full name, actually, is Olive Yu Palmer. That’s what it says on her professionally printed Knox College business cards, which identify her as a certified therapy dog. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, “Olive Yu” is a play on words.)
Pet therapy is one of the self-guided therapy options available through Counseling Services, says Assistant Dean for Student Wellness/Director of Counseling Services Janell McGruder. “The self-guided therapy options [which also include light therapy and biofeedback] are ways for students to seek out forms of therapy and coping mechanisms, without going through the normal intake process,” she explains.
“There are many benefits to pet therapy, both physically and mentally,” McGruder adds. The mental health benefits include providing comfort, decreasing anxiety, lessening symptoms of depression, reducing boredom and loneliness, and lifting spirits.
Knox students may set up a pet therapy session on their own, or it could be recommended by their counselor. The process for scheduling an appointment with Olive is simple: First, students must arrange a day and time through Counseling Services, and then they need to read and sign a waiver and consent form. Each appointment lasts about 15 minutes.
“The type of interaction depends on Olive,” says Palmer, who is always present during the pet therapy sessions. “We all just follow Olive's lead in terms of how she interacts with the student.”
Sometimes, Olive is in a playful mood, and she’ll chase a ball or engage in a game of tug-of-war. At other times, Palmer explains, Olive prefers to nap in the student’s lap or in a chair beside the student, or she may lie on the floor and “gladly receive” a belly rub.
Some students have had several therapy sessions with Olive, and she now recognizes them. She “gets very excited and tends to be more interactive with some of her regular ‘fans,’” Palmer says.
A mixed-breed dog, Olive is part Bichon Frise and part Shih Tzu—a combination also known as a Shichon. Shichons are among the so-called “teddy bear” breeds that refer to small dogs with friendly personalities. Olive also is hypoallergenic.
McGruder notes that pet therapy “is another option in our full package of counseling services on campus. Not every option is right for everyone, so being able to offer a variety is important to our diverse student body.”