Virginia Tech Gives Therapy Dog an Honorary Degree

It is not every day that you get to see a dog graduate, hence people were very much amused to see such an event at Virginia Tech’s virtual commencement ceremony. A dog named Moose Davis, was awarded an honorary doctorate in veterinary medicine for his exemplary work as a therapy dog. The 8-year-old dog has been working at the institution since 2014. His owner, Trent Davis, is a licensed Counselor who has been working at the school for over 10 years. To complement his services, he uses Moose, along three other dogs, to provide counselling and therapy sessions. The dogs attend football games, club events, and new student orientations. They also help students cope with mental issues such as anxiety and trauma.

So far so good, as the team has managed to deliver over 7500 counseling sessions. Out of the four dogs, Moose work has been the most remarkable hence the reason why the school decided to honor him. According to Davis, the veterinary profession can be quite disturbing hence some veterinarians end up with mental issues. This has led to several suicide cases. The dog helps both staff and students at the institutions cope with mental issues, and now they have nothing but praises for him.

“Some humans haven’t had the best experience with other humans or even other dogs. In both cases, Moose provides a very safe and comforting force in the room,” said David during his interview with CNN “These students see Moose as someone who’s going to accept them. They don’t worry about him judging them.  Just like human graduates do, during his big day, Moose adorned a cute graduation cap that highlighted his achievement. On his neck was an adorable scarf with his name on it.

The dog is now officially a doctor! The school went ahead to put this on paper by giving him a diploma. Part of it read, ‘Moose Davis …Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Veterinary Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’. His owner and the college’s staff took turns to congratulate the impressive dog who has made a difference in their lives. According to CNN, this is not the first time the dog has been honored as he also won the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Hero Award, in 2019.

However, its not all sunshine in Moose’s life as he was diagnosed with prostate cancer early this year. Since then, he has been undergoing chemotherapy sessions to help cure the disease. Nevertheless, the Labrador retriever continues to be his usual happy and inspirational self every day. Hopefully, he will fully recover soon to continue offering his invaluable services to students at Virginia Tech.

According to Science Daily, the percentages of American young adults facing mental issues have increased significantly over the past decade. An alarming percentage experience serious psychological distress, major depression, or suicidal thoughts. Therapy dogs have for a long time been used to cater to such cases.

How do Therapy Dogs Work?

Therapy Dogs act and respond to particular situations as per the instructions of their owners. A client may be encouraged to gently pat or talk to a dog to help them be calm. According to NCBI, the reason as to why dogs are used in treating mental issues is because they help reduce psychological stress (cortisol levels)and also trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that increases attachment and trust in human beings. For the longest time, humans and dogs have been best friends, and in therapy sessions, this relationship is fine-tuned to the benefit of the client. Here are some of the ways therapy dogs come in handy.

Teach Appropriate Interpersonal Skills- In this case, the owner’s dog encourages a client to talk to a therapy dog as if it were a person. Usually, such people may find it uncomfortable to talk to other people or have had bad experiences from it. Since therapy dogs quietly sit down to listen and do not judge, it becomes easier for them to open up. In the long run, this exercise helps improve their communication skills.

  • Help Patients See the Impact of their Behaviors on Others- As they interact with therapy dogs, patients can gauge and analyze their social skills.
  • It Builds Rapport between a client and Therapist/ Counselor – A professional who works with a therapy dog may be considered friendlier and less threatening. Therefore, a client is more likely to open up and get help.
  • Motivate Clients to do particular activities- For example, some therapy dogs are used in schools to motivate children to learn. Kids who face literacy problems are usually encouraged to read to therapy dogs as they will not judge them. Studies show that with time it increases a child’s reading and writing levels
  • Helping People Testify in Court Stands- Sometimes it can be quite difficult to testify in court especially for children who have gone through traumatic experiences. Therapy dogs are used to offer comfort and be a companion while in the stand.
  • Cheer Up People in Hospitals- Most people who have been admitted to the hospital confess that receiving visitors lightens up their day. With this in mind, therapy dogs are being used to visit and offer comfort to patients especially those who suffer from terminal illnesses. Their presence helps soothe the nerves of ailing patients.

Setback in Using Therapy Dogs

Even though most people testify to the usefulness of therapy dogs, they are not yet fully backed by law. According to Wikipedia, in the United States, they are not covered by the Federal Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, it is illegal to have them in public areas unless they are specifically allowed to visit and work in them. Therapy dogs are mostly granted rights by individual facilities such as schools and hospitals. Despite this, therapy dogs are continually being used to cater to the mental health of clients, not only in the United States but also in many other countries.

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