Therapy dogs brighten up students’ day

Category:  News
Wednesday, October 21st, 2015 at 11:14 PM
Therapy dogs brighten up students’ day by Tracy Geibel
Pictured above, Megan Groner and Christina Gilbert pet one of the therapy dogs at the library on reading day.

It took therapy dog, Sadie, and her handler, Bonnie Tarcia, over a half hour to walk from the McComb parking lot to the library.

The two had come to be part of the therapy dog session held Tuesday, Oct. 13 on the second floor of the Baron-Forness Library, but before they could get there, and on their way from the parking lot, students who recognized her from other therapy dog sessions stopped her, asking to pet Sadie.

Tarcia got Sadie after she was born last April. A year and five months later, she has been at Edinboro University three times and many other places working as a therapy dog.

“Her favorite visits are with younger kids and university students,” Tarcia said. “She just loves it.”

All the dog handlers that visit the university are volunteers, but they enjoy coming. Tarcia knows some of the students who consistently attend the sessions.

“I’ve known them since I’ve been coming,” she said, “so it’s nice to see them when I walked in the door.”

Dr. Mary Wolf, a clinical physiologist in the counseling and physiological services at Ghering Health and Wellness Center, brings her dog, also a therapy dog, along for the day, too.

Wolf works alongside Kate Damico-Upham, an academic success coordinator, to hold this event.

“A few years ago we started working together to coordinate an activity that would just help students, who were maybe missing their dogs at home or maybe feeling a little anxious,” Damico-Upham said. “It just gives them some time to come in and pet dogs.”

Petting an animal, like a dog, increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone that relieves stress and also decreases cortisol, a hormone that causes stress, according to

“What better place than here on campus to help students, who often feel stressed the whole semester?” Damico-Upham said.

It was originally only an event held the Sunday before finals week, but because of its success, Wolf and Damico-Upham thought bringing in the dogs more often would help students even more. In September, over 200 students came to visit with the dogs, and on reading day, at least 150 stopped by.

The dogs will be back again once or twice during the rest of the fall semester, but should definitely be on campus the Sunday before finals.

“It’s a feel good event,” DamicoUpham said. “Sometimes students are feeling a little homesick and maybe just seeing a dog and just being able to come over and pet them helps.”

Ashley Downs has a Pitbull-Terrier mix at home, and misses her dog while at school.

“I come here because I love dogs,” she said. “I always like spending time with them; it’s relaxing.”

The dogs enjoy it, too, according to Wolf, calling it a “massage session” for them.

“I think this is a win-win for everybody,” Wolf said. “The dogs love it; they love the attention.”

Wolf also works with Therapy Dogs United in Erie, where there are over 300 therapy dogs in this area. The dogs that come to campus are usually the same few each time though.

“This is like our favorite thing to do all semester,” Damico-Upham said, “because it makes everyone feel good when they come in.”

Tracy Geibel is the Campus Life Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at

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