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Meet a therapy dog coordinator for Michigan State

October 1, 2018
Students pet a service dog at Fallapalooza on Sept. 21, 2018.
Students pet a service dog at Fallapalooza on Sept. 21, 2018. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Students who've been in the MSU Library or other study areas during exam-heavy weeks might have noticed the presence of therapy dogs around for them to pet. 

For those wondering who helps coordinate therapy dog events, look no further than Tammison Smith of MSU Career Services.

Smith’s career with therapy dogs started when she and her mother adopted a toy poodle, whom they named Osage. Six months after adopting Osage, Smith's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Osage stayed by her side constantly.

“He was very good with her, he knew when she needed to relax," Smith said. "He knew when she needed to just have somebody encourage her to have a little activity. He was very sensitive to her needs."

When Smith's mother passed away, Osage longed for that same level of companionship. His dog walker suggested therapy dog training to help hone his intuitive energy and gift for helping those in need. It would also be a way for Smith to honor her mother. 

"I remembered her saying, ‘The dogs were here! It was the best day at work!' ... They were there for the patients, but they made the people at the hospital feel great," Smith said.  "And I thought that would be a great way to help him have something to do."

When outreach librarian Holly Flynn needed assistance in finding therapy dogs to come and visit student in MSU's Library, she reached out to Smith because of her connections with different dog teams in the area. 

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Soon after that, Smith began receiving requests from groups all over campus for dog visits. The dogs either are from Therapy Dogs International or a group called Love on a Leash. 

She believes that the dogs help students not only de-stress, but also connect with their peers.

“They definitely help (students) reduce their stress. ... We’ve heard students say this is the best day I’ve had, we’ve seen them connect with other student socially,” she said. "They’ll come out of their room for the first time, they’ll put down their phone, they'll talk to people they haven’t met before. We’ve seen them make social connections."

Cady Ness-Smith is a local Love on a Leash chapter leader. She has participated in on-campus visits for the past three years and worked as a dog handler for over 20 years. 

She believes the therapy dog visits help students cope with stress caused by college. 

“It’s very stressful when you’re focusing your attention on your studies. You don’t really have anything from home except a few inanimate objects to remind you of home and the people that care about you," Ness-Smith said. "Having a pet ... something you can love on, and that loves you back is important."

Chemical engineering junior Shay Ladd talked about the joy she felt when she got to meet some of the dogs at MSU's Sept. 21 Fall-A-Palooza, a fall-themed festival on campus. 

“I’m a very tactile person, so petting the dogs is relaxing and soothing,” Ladd said.

She also talked about the benefits she thinks the dogs bring her fellow students.

“It provides something to focus on that’s happy. For a little bit, you’re not thinking about anything stressful, you’re just petting a dog," Ladd said. "It’s a nice little distraction."

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