Since certified therapy dogs Milo and Stella joined Middlebury's Health and wellness program in 2022, the Center for Health and Wellness has been hosting open sessions with their two therapy dogs every Tuesday in an effort to boost students’ moods and bring joy to campus.
“We are so grateful to have the welcoming community at Middlebury for Stella to feel at home,” Sarah Lawrence, associate director of the Center for Health and Wellness and Stella’s owner wrote in an email to The Campus. “She and I also gain so much from having the love that students give to her, and I also deeply enjoy seeing her build connections with students.”
Milo began his open visits in March 2022. They are held in and around McCullough Student Center because of its central location on campus, utilizing the foyer outside of the Grille during the colder months and holding the visits outside in the early fall and late spring.
According to Lawrence, she had been looking to include a dog in her therapeutic practice for a long time and was finally able to have her dog Stella certified in April 2022. The process for obtaining certification had to be initiated by a staff member, and for Stella it involved tests of trustworthiness, a letter from her veterinarian, and a letter from Lawrence explaining why she wanted to get Stella certified, according to The Campus’ reporting on the therapy dogs last fall. Stella joined Middlebury’s therapy dog team in September 2022.
Kathleen Parent, a budget analyst in the Office of Academic Affairs, is Milo’s owner. Though Parent is not part of Middlebury’s Center for Health and Wellness, she has found a passion in sharing her furry friend with the Middlebury community.
“Milo has grown up on campus, he has been coming to work with me since he was 4 months old,” Parent wrote in an email to The Campus. “I get asked a lot why I decided to do therapy work with Milo, and it’s really that Milo loves to be loved!”
Parent noted how excited students were to interact with Milo when they saw him around campus, and it was because of this reaction that she was eager to have him certified as a therapy dog. In addition to the weekly visits, Stella and Milo also participate in other special events in the Health and Wellness office, including the Halloween and Valentine’s Day events.
Whether students miss their pets at home or simply want to connect with an animal, Lawrence has noticed the benefits students get from spending time with Stella, both at the weekly open visits and in her one-on-one counseling sessions.
“I see the benefit that having her brings to students who might be struggling. Sometimes it is difficult to verbally process emotional challenges, and having Stella there can bring so much soothing and calm in those moments,” Lawrence wrote.
According to a study published on Taylor & Francis Online, college students experience elevated levels of psychological distress, but brief interactions with dogs significantly reduce anxiety and improve mood.
A number of studies have conducted specifically on the impact of interactions with animals on college students’ mental health have found that there are clear benefits to these interactions for students. According to a PubMed article, “even a short 20 min session with a therapy dog can be an effective alternative intervention to improve student well-being, anxiety, and mood.” The study suggested that animal-assisted interventions, activities and visitation programs can be utilized on college campuses to improve students’ mood and overall well-being.
This Friday, Oct. 27, Milo and Stella will have their own trick or treating station at the Health and Wellness Education office downstairs in Ross from 2:30–4 p.m. The Tuesday open visits will continue through the end of the semester, and the Center for Health and Wellness plans to schedule these visits during J-Term and the spring semester, as well.
“We welcome all students to drop by from 4-5 on Tuesdays!” Lawrence wrote.
Susanna Schatz ‘24 (she/her) is the Senior News Editor.
She previously served as Local Editor, Staff Writer, and Visuals Artist for The Campus. She is an English major and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies minor.
Susanna is the social media and marketing intern for a small business started by Midd Alums, Treeline Terrains. In her free time you’ll find her taking in the Vermont outdoors hiking, swimming, skiing, reading in an Adirondack chair, or painting the scenery.