Fluffy Therapy: A Four-Legged Good Samaritan Improves Morale at the College of Nursing

May 5, 2017

In keeping with the University of Arizona College of Nursing focus on integrative health and wellness to the forefront, its resident therapy dog, Hannah periodically patrols the College halls as a stress-buster. Meeting Hannah when you’re having a stressful or difficult time is a calming experience – all thanks to her therapeutic, empathetic temperament.

In 2014 faculty member Sheri Carson, MSN, RN, CPNP, kick-started a novel therapy program with Hannah, her eight-year-old Golden Retriever, to decrease student related stress and test anxiety as well as faculty and staff work-related stress. “Working in pediatrics, I had experiences with therapy animals and personally saw the positive effect of therapy animals on children who are sick or on family members with a loved one in the hospital,” said Carson. “I felt like it would be a good fit for the academic setting as well. It’s a great way to give back to our community in a very tangible way.”

After obtaining a nod of approval from College leadership and campus security, Carson and Hannah completed a six-week training program.  Hannah demonstrated her unflappability and unflagging good spirits in the face of social tests like being bum-rushed by a crowd of people (she immediately cuddled into them), a huge plush banana in a wheelchair meant to stir feelings of fear (she went right up to it), people banging walkers and canes (she was unfazed) and the hardest hurdle – ignoring a tempting hot dog on the floor (she passed the treat by). In the end she walked away with pet VIP Certification through the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.

Since then, Hannah has become something of a celebrity around the College. “I’ve often thought she should have her own Cat Card,” joked Carson, who brings her sidekick with her on lecture days and during finals week. Sometimes Carson brings Hanna on impromptu hall walks to meet people, or hangs out in the courtyard to visit with students, faculty and staff. In the spirit of cross-college collaboration, Hannah has also worked her stress relieving magic at the College of Pharmacy, the College of Public Health and during the College of Medicine Tot Shots program, which provides free vaccines for underserved local children.

Hannah’s power to ease stress is palpable in the classroom setting. “She’s very intuitive,” said Carson. “She’ll go throughout the different sections of the class and she’ll gravitate toward one or two students who you can tell need soothing the most. She’s such a people lover and she loves to be loved. For a lot of students, that’s what they’ve said is the best part about her and what they enjoy the most, because she doesn’t just sit there. She literally will insert herself into your presence.”

Media contact: Jason Gelt, Communications and Content Specialist