Harvard Therapy Dog Offers Stress Relief for Students And Staff

little girl and shitzu
Photo courtesy of Countway Library of Medicine
Lily, the daughter of a staff member, with Cooper.

Therapy animals can make a big difference in people’s lives. Whether it’s a dog or cat therapy team, or even a pig or horse, these animals offer important benefits to those in need.

While therapy pets are often found in hospitals and nursing homes, schools and universities are also enlisting their services to help students manage the stress of end-of-semester papers and finals. Playing with puppies certainly helps students deal with the pressure of exams, but could a therapy dog help with ongoing stress in their everyday academic lives?

Harvard Medical School is one of the few universities answering that question. Its Countway Library of Medicine is offering the services of a Shih Tzu therapy dog named Cooper to students, staff and faculty throughout the academic year — not just during finals.

Harvard Medical School researcher Dr. Loise Francisco is Cooper’s owner; she thought Cooper would be a good therapy dog due to his gentle, calm and understanding disposition. Dr. Francisco says that Cooper has compassionate eyes, likes people, and is also obedient — all of which are important traits for a therapy dog.

“I thought that it was a good way to give back to society and give Cooper’s life a purpose. He also seems to enjoy meeting new people,” says Dr. Francisco.

Joining Harvard

Cooper has been a therapy dog with an organization called Caring Canines for four years. He volunteers with them on weekends, visiting elderly-care facilities, rehabilitation hospitals and cancer centers.

Three years ago Cooper started making twice-weekly trips to Harvard, where Dr. Francisco and her husband both teach and do research. The couple wrote to the director of the Medical School Library to see if it was possible to start a therapy dog program using Cooper.

“As you can imagine, medicine and science are challenging fields," Dr. Francisco says. "The students and faculty on campus are very bright and driven people. With such intensity often comes stress. We thought it would be a great idea if anyone who wants to take a break from their busy and/or stressful day — they can relax or study with Cooper at their side."

Cooper seems to love his position at the library. Dr. Francisco says Cooper knows his way into the building from the parking garage, and he sprints through the double doors when he nears the library.

“I think it’s great that students and HMS staff have an outlet to relax or just spend time with a dog — perhaps they miss their own dog at home. I’ve noticed that when I drop Cooper off, all the patrons entering the library greet him with a smile and begin their day with a bit more levity,” she says.


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