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Therapy Dogs Lend a Helping Paw

March 12, 2024
Comfort Caring Canines
Panda the lab meets new friends at Bryn Mawr.

Huckleberry perked up, tail wagging, as Katherine Lord hurried over to him.

The clinical social work graduate student bonded with the beagle last year when his owner and Bryn Mawr adjunct professor, Christina Bach, brought him to her class. Then, Huckleberry was recovering from surgery and Lord comforted him. Now, he was there to comfort her and others.

“Dogs are my therapy,” Lord says as she scratches Huckleberry’s ears and feeds him treats, “so this is the best thing of the day.”

The Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research hosted a two-day visit from the therapy dogs of Comfort Caring Canines on March 5 and 6. The visit was coordinated by Bach, who has been bringing the dogs of CCC to Bryn Mawr since the fall of 2022 when she started teaching at GSSWSR.

GSSWSR Student Services Coordinator John Edwards says they like to bring the dogs to campus around midterms and finals to give the students––as well as faculty and staff––some stress relief.

“Given how busy their lives are,” Edwards says, “can we give them 10 or 15 minutes where they can just not think about schoolwork, not think about the papers they have to do, and enjoy the company of a dog, and their classmates as well, in a low-pressure situation?”

Huckleberry is one of Bach’s three therapy dogs and has been working for five years. The dogs go through training in different situations to test their responses to medical equipment, people, loud noises, and other environmental stressors. They complete an obedience test every few months. The dogs visit hospitals, schools, senior facilities, and even libraries, where children read to them.

Paula Singer, M.S.S. ’00 has been volunteering with CCC for six years and came to campus with her lab Pandora, or “Panda." Singer works with children in schools on obstacles to their education including mental health issues, bullying, grief, and more, and she calls Panda the “perfect partner” in that work, calming anxieties and prompting conversation. 

“I enjoy talking to GSSWSR students who are interested in the role that therapy dogs can play in social work,” she says, “and giving them examples of interventions that were possible in my work because of the presence of a calm and affectionate dog.”