On Sept. 22, Loyola students and visiting family members met Ashlar, the university’s new 3-year-old therapy dog.
Therapy dogs on college campuses are meant to lower stress and anxiety and provide comfort for students, according to Therapy Dogs United. According to Affordable Colleges Online, examples of colleges who have also implemented animal-assisted therapy programs include University of Connecticut, Kent State University, University of Minnesota and Miami University.
Ashlar is a Great Pyrenees mix, a breed that has a patient and calm temperament, according to American Kennel Club.
Ashlar arrived just in time for Family Weekend, an annual event where families are invited to Loyola for a three-day event to explore campus. For the first time, students and their families had the opportunity to meet the pup Saturday on the East Quad.
“He is so cute, I got to meet him at Family Weekend,” 19-year-old Jonyce Bedford, a first-year majoring in neuroscience, said. “I can’t wait to have a bad day so I go see him to cheer me up.”
According to David deBoer, director of counseling at the Wellness Center, Ashlar has spent one year training as a therapy dog by TOPS Kennel in Grayslake, Illinois.
A study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed the presence of animal-assisted therapy in educational settings encourages concentration and motivation and lowers stress in students, which can improve learning.
“The existing evidence clearly points at the potential of interactions with animals, especially one’s own pet-dog, to increase OT [oxytocin] levels in humans,” the study said.
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus of the brain, according to the study. The study said an increase in oxytocin helps stimulate social interaction and has anti-stress effects.
Ashlar’s main duties will take place Tuesdays through Fridays, deBoer said. Throughout these four days, Ashlar will attend 45-minute sessions with counselors called “Ask Ashlar,” said Joan Holden, director of the Wellness Center.
“Ask Ashlar” gives students the opportunity to stop by and see Ashlar. She said these sessions were previously called “Talk with Tivo” and “Sit with Santos,” according to Holden.
Sessions will take place in the Loyola Information Commons and the Damen Student Center, according to the Wellness Center website. For those who spend time at Water Tower Campus, Ashlar will be visiting the Corboy Law Center one Thursday afternoon every month, deBoer said.
Students can access Ashlar’s schedule through the Wellness Center website.
Holden said Ashlar was preceded by two other therapy dogs: Tivo, who was with Loyola for five years, and Santos, who recently left Loyola after one year.
Ashlar replaced Santos because he’s too energetic to be a therapy dog, according to deBoer.
“Tivo retired a couple years ago because he was at retirement age,” deBoer said. “We had Santos last year, and Santos is a wonderful dog and he still comes to the Wellness Center once in a while … But he was a bit too highly energetic to be a kind of therapy dog where a dog likes to, you know, chillax and be pet and just sort of hang out. So [Ashlar] is a dog whose temperament is a better fit for working as a therapy dog.”
Molly Henhapl, a senior elementary education major, agreed Santos wasn’t suited to be a therapy dog.
“Santos had a lot of energy, [so he] wasn’t the best therapy dog, but [he is] very cute,” Henpahl, 21, said.