Paws on Campus
Free Rune and Thor cameos
Written by Andrea Brazis
In spring of 2022, Cleveland State made history.
From the day our four-legged friends stepped foot on our campus, they’ve been loved and adored by everyone. Rune and Thor are brother yellow lab therapy dogs from Lewis Center, Ohio that are owned and cared for by CSU’s Police Department (CSUPD). These two have made their fair share of public appearances at CAB events, athletic games and other random places on campus throughout the week. Rune is currently partnered with CSUPD officer Toni Jones and Thor is partnered with CSUPD officer Thomas Lear. Rune is what some might call the “day guard,” as he makes his campus appearances during the morning and early afternoon. Thor is the “night guard”; he makes his appearances in the evenings when campus is a little less crazy.
The demand for mental health counseling on campuses is constantly increasing and therapy dogs seem to be an alternative solution. On average, about 300 law enforcement agencies in the nation include therapy dogs in their programs. Research shows that therapy dogs have many positive effects on people including enhancing socioeconomic development, reducing stress and anxiety, improving energy levels and many other benefits. Simply petting a dog has been shown to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, as well as lower levels of stress hormones and increase levels of oxytocin.
“Dogs offer a unique type of social support, as they can provide unconditional affection in a way that humans sometimes cannot,” says Lauren Powell, a postdoc at the School of Veterinary Medicine, in an article by Penn Today.
Therapy dogs offer a variety of cognitive, socio-emotional and learning benefits for students across the United States.
The mere presence of therapy dogs in a classroom setting may improve levels of concentration, relaxation and motivation, creating effective learning.
Interacting with therapy dogs can assist with problem-solving and reading skills, as well as memory. Reading aloud to therapy dogs is a beneficial method for children to feel more comfortable and gain some experience. According to the website Weareteachers, therapy dogs not only help children with their literacy skills, but they also give them a chance to connect with other students, helping social-emotional learning as well.
Therapy dogs are friendly companions and listeners that can easily become a friend to young children, increasing self-confidence and lowering aggressive tendencies.
“The NIH study states that interacting with a therapy dog has a ‘social catalyst’ effect, which leads to ‘increased stimulation of social behavior,’” says Elizabeth Mulvahill, contributing editor of the website Weareteachers.
“The relationships between the dogs and students help develop trust in children, and such children are also more likely to develop a broader capacity for empathy,” says an unidentified author of an article by Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
Therapy dogs shouldn’t be confused with service dogs, as there’s a significant difference between the two. Service dogs typically assist individuals with specific disabilities, such as visual impairment or seizure disorders. They are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and their work and services directly correlate with their patient/handler. Service dogs are permitted to enter most public spaces, under the protection of ADA. Contrastingly, therapy dogs offer support and a sense of calmness, using social instincts to improve overall mental health and well-being. They are typically pets and offer comfort to individuals in places such as nursing homes, retirement facilities and hospitals. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs aren’t allowed in many public spaces unless they’re given a specific invitation.
A glaring difference between service and therapy dogs is the level of access they each have to public spaces. For example, pet-friendly hotels aren’t allowed to charge a guest extra for bringing a service dog with them, and hotels that prohibit pets aren’t allowed to deny access to service dogs or separate them from their owner. However, pet-friendly hotels may charge an extra fee to guests bringing a therapy dog with them, and hotels that prohibit pets are allowed to deny access to therapy dogs.
You might wonder why every college and university doesn’t implement a therapy dog program. Unfortunately, a few setbacks and concerns have stopped schools and universities from joining these programs now or in the future. The first concern is cost. Training and good maintenance must be considered prior to joining a therapy dog program. Both the dog and its handler need to be trained, and the dog must remain healthy. Additionally, cooperation and assistance from administration and staff is essential, as well as making sure that the dog is still being treated ethically and is not overworked.
“A lack of knowledge as well as resistance amongst other staff due to various reasons during the phases of therapy dog planning and implementation is also another challenge which handlers need to navigate,” says Christine Grove and others from Frontiers.
A second concern is allergies. Many people are mildly to severely allergic to dog fur. Having therapy dogs frequently in a school or college setting could disrupt their quality of learning. A third concern — and a pretty common one — is hygiene. It’s often insinuated that dogs may carry disease or illness that may be transferred to humans or other animals.
But do these risks outweigh the plethora of benefits that therapy dogs offer? Only time will tell.
Therapy dogs have many positive effects on people. However, there’s something extra special about Rune and Thor. These dogs have bridged a gap between students, peers and CSUPD. Having these two lovable furballs around campus has undoubtedly increased serotonin levels and given students an opportunity to interact with both the dogs and their handlers. Rune and Thor also serve as “placeholders'' for some students who may be homesick or missing family or pets. These dogs offer a sense of calm and reassurance and create a sense of belonging within the Cleveland community and CSU.
The implementation of therapy dogs at CSU has been a wonderful way to bring together the campus community and create an inexplicable level of joy. Rune and Thor have made an important impact on CSU and have certainly lived up to their namesake “man’s best friend.”