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The ‘Dog-tor’ Will See You Now: Emerson Counseling Gets Therapy Dog

The newest therapist at Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services (ECAPS) comes highly recommended, with impressive credentials.

So what if he drools a bit.

Rudy, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel owned by ECAPS social worker and substance abuse counselor Annelle Kallman, has joined the team at 216 Tremont Street this semester after getting his certification as a trained therapy dog in April.

It should prove a savvy move on the part of ECAPS.

“I’ve been working here for three years now, and every year, we send out an evaluation at the end of the year to anyone who came in to ECAPS,” Kallman said. “And the last couple of years, as a write-in [answer] to ‘Is there anything we can do to improve services?’ a good number of  people write, ‘Yes. Get a therapy dog.’”

Dogs, including Rudy, have been a huge draw at Emerson’s biannual finals week Cirque de De-Stress events, and a number of area colleges have made therapy dogs a regular feature of their counseling services. So when ECAPS Director Elise Harrison asked Kallman if she’d be interested in getting Rudy certified, it seemed a no brainer.

Rudy had to pass a basic obedience class just to be admitted to the Dog B.O.N.E.S. (Dogs Building Opportunities for Nurturing & Emotional Support) program, a series of three, two-hour classes. He underwent a series of evaluations, Kallman said, including whether or not he’s spooked around wheelchairs and walkers, and if he can recognize signs of distress in people and approach them gently.

On April 16, Rudy earned his diploma and blue vest – the equivalent of a physician’s white coat.

He will be in the office a couple of days a week, with his schedule depending on Kallman’s; students, faculty, and staff will know when Rudy’s working a shift by checking his Instagram account (@DogtorRudy_at_ecaps), which already has more than 350 followers, or the ECAPS Twitter account (@eccounselingctr).

Due to staffing levels, students won’t be able to book individual appointments with Rudy, and his certification doesn’t allow him to be alone with students, but Kallman said he will be available for group therapy sessions, provided the group wants him there, and will greet and soothe students who come in for urgent care.

“I’m hoping to use Rudy to help people while petting him as a sort of exercise in mindfulness,” she said.

Kallman said people will be alerted, via social media, a sign on the door, and over the phone when scheduling appointments, when Rudy is in.

Research has shown that just the mere presence of a dog in the room can calm people down, Kallman said.

“I think a fun fact is that Freud always had a dog in the room [when seeing patients],” she said. “He said in his writings that he originally brought it in the room for himself, but he noticed it helped patients open up.”

Kyle Madigan ’18 can vouch for the soothing power (and adorableness) of dogs. He’s attended the last few Cirque de De-Stress events.

“[A] lot of people really love dogs. A lot. I have friends who go out of their way to pet dogs when they walk in the Common,” Madigan said via email. “During a high-stress time like finals, there’s nothing like a few minutes spent with a dog to help make you feel more relaxed and ready to take on the work ahead of you.”

For all the good that Rudy promises to do for humans’ state of mind, Kallman said Rudy’s own mental health will probably be well served by his new job. Kallman has a nearly 2-year-old daughter at home, and since she’s been part of the scene, Rudy’s had to make do with less attention.

“He loves people and he loves getting petted and he loves getting scratched,” Kallman said. “He needs more of that in his life.”

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