Stress Relief Goes to the Dogs

Mami Ikenoue (left) and Nancy Newman from Paws for Purple Hearts brought three dogs with them to campus last week.

When Paws for Purple Hearts was on Virginia Peninsula’s Hampton campus in December, fewer than a dozen people attended. Last week, when the organization, which uses dogs to provide stress relief, returned, almost 40 people visited the animals and their handlers.

“This is a fantastic first number,” said David Lannon, the College’s VERITAS liaison.

In December, the event was geared more toward veterans and was held during exam week, but it has been expanded.

“We wanted to open it up to anybody who just wants to hang out with a dog,” Lannon said.

The goal was reached as 17 students, 14 staff, one faculty member and seven community members stopped by.

Three dogs were on hand, 8-month-old Orion, and a pair of 2-year-olds, David and Jeanette. David is not a full Labrador, but Orion and Jeanette are.

Brandie Weaver, the Veterans Services manager, was at a military summit in Richmond last year and saw Paws for Purple Hearts. She and Lannon had previous talks about acquiring a service dog for the department, so Lannon reached out to the organization.

“I’ve worked with other colleges that would bring in a service dog during exam week,” he said. “I thought, ‘How cool would this be?’”

After the group’s initial appearance in December, Lannon received positive feedback from those who did attend, so they worked to make it a more regular event. Other appearances are scheduled for May 3, Aug. 23, Oct. 25 and Dec. 13. He received a request from a faculty member at the Historic Triangle campus to have Paws for Purple Hearts show up there, so the plan for the fall schedule is to alternate appearances between the campuses.

Lannon and Weaver said they have even more in mind: a service dog for the office.

“It would be a facility dog here, but we could take him around throughout the campus, to classrooms,” Weaver said. “He or she would be housed here and we would have a handler Monday through Friday.”

Heather Martin is the senior program instructor at the Paws for Purple Hearts’ location in Ruther Glen, Virginia, and a student at VPCC. She was unable to attend the December appearance on campus, but was here March 22. It’s a different environment than usual for her and the dogs.

“Normally, our social therapy visits are to in-patient veterans or service members going through some kind of treatment,” she said.

Visits to a college campus allow the organization to reach people who might not be able to be home with their pets, or those who haven’t seen their pets in a long time.

That stress relief, especially on a college campus, is important.

“Maybe you failed that test … It’s not so bad when you get to interact with an animal,” she said.

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