Drexel’s New Solution to Stress: An On-Staff Therapy Dog Named Jersey
It’s not every day that I have an interview with a dog on my calendar. But a few weeks back, I found myself in an office at the Drexel University Recreation Center asking questions. To a dog.
Well, to be fair, the dog’s owner, Kathryn Formica, the center’s coordinator for student fitness and wellness, was supplying the answers, but the interview itself was all about Jersey, the Carolina blend therapy dog, adopted from the Delaware County SPCA, who’s now a permanent fixture at the university.
“He helps create a sense of community, give that sense of home to students who might be missing their families, or family dogs, or who may be dealing with other stressors of academic life,” says Formica. “He’s a great conversation starter, a great outlet.”
Formica says she’s always wanted a dog, but her schedule wouldn’t allow for it—unless, of course, she could bring the dog to work. Then she thought about how once a term, usually during finals, Drexel brought in therapy dogs for students to play with to help them relieve stress. What if we had a therapy dog here all the time? she thought.
A few schools in the country, including Yale and Harvard, have on-site therapy dogs, so Formica called the program managers there to get some intel. The dogs at those schools work out of the library. “I couldn’t find a single university in the country where a dog is part of the wellness program,” she says. She wanted the Drexel Recreation Center to be the first, a way to pair mental wellness with physical wellness.
Last year, Formica began pitching her idea to the higher-ups. And pitching and pitching and pitching some more. Finally, this past spring, she got approval for the initiative, so she began hunting around for the perfect dog. She worked with the staff at the Delco SPCA to identify a dog that would be both calm tempered and easily adaptable, but who would have enough energy to play with college kids all day long. Jersey fit the bill perfectly.
After working with a dog trainer and completing certification through Therapy Dogs International and Canine Good Citizen, Jersey officially joined Drexel staff this fall. And, yes, he has the ID badge to prove it.
Jersey keeps “office hours” three days a week, when students can drop by to play for a bit. Some students, says Formica, just want to play with Jersey, while some use the opportunity to talk to his owner. Formica works with the school’s counseling center to refer students who might need more help.
“Everyone at Drexel is on board and super supportive. He’s like a superstar when we walk across campus—everyone wants to stop and pet him,” says Formica. “It’s really opened my eyes to how I can expand my role here and utilize Jersey for all kinds of cool programs. It’s all about thinking outside the box.”
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