Students, faculty and staff at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and Oklahoma State University-Tulsa now have some four-legged friends to visit on campus to aid in wellness and stress relief efforts.
“The benefits of pet ownership have been well documented,” said Sandy Cooper, assistant vice president for human resources at OSU in Tulsa and coordinator of Pete’s Pet Posse Tulsa (P3T). “It makes sense that allowing therapy animals in the workplace will have the same benefits as living with a pet.”
P3T is an expansion of the Pete’s Pet Posse therapy dog program launched by OSU-Stillwater in 2013 as part of the university’s America’s Healthiest Campus initiative. The first P3T class of five dogs graduated from training during a “Barkalaureate” ceremony on Oct. 15 at OSU-CHS.
“There is something about being around animals that makes us better humans. We are thrilled that the first extension of Pete’s Pet Posse is to the OSU Center for Health Sciences and OSU-Tulsa,” said Dr. Jean Sander, dean of the OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. “We have seen the positive response at the Stillwater campus and know there will be a similar response here in Tulsa.”
The first P3T class includes Deuce, an 11-year-old yellow lab, and his handler, Kayse Shrum, D.O., OSU-CHS president and dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine; Diesel, a 7-year-old chocolate lab, and his handler, Megan Whitehead, clinic coordinator for the communication sciences and disorders department; Jake, a 10-year-old red heeler mix, and his handler, Jerrie Hall, associate library director at OSU-Tulsa; Lily, a 7-year-old cockapoo, and her handler, Cooper; and Lucy, a 5-year-old black lab, her handlers, OSU-CHS Registrar Amanda Sumner and her husband Phillip Sumner.
For Shrum, getting involved in the program was an opportunity to get to know students while also giving Deuce a chance to make a difference on campus.
“Deuce is my oldest son’s dog and ever since he left for college, Deuce has been a little sad. P3T will be good for him because he enjoys being around people,” said Shrum. “I also get to interact with our students in a less formal setting so I can get to know them a little better.”
Each dog was selected from a pool of applicants and completed rigorous training and testing to be part of P3T. The dogs are certified as Canine Good Citizens and will soon be nationally registered as a pet therapy team with their handlers through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
P3T will serve at OSU-Tulsa and OSU-CHS as greeters and campus ambassadors during special events and will be available for clinical or crisis situations.
For Whitehead, the program will also provide an added benefit for students and clients in OSU-Tulsa Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic.
“Diesel will be able to provide short periods of companionship to students on campus who need a brain break from the stress of college life,” said Whitehead. “He will also be able to assist our clients through stress relief while we are working in the clinic. I think he will enjoy being on campus and receiving all the attention, so it will be good for everyone.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness and stress.
Sumner knows that being a part of P3T will also be a good experience for Lucy, who was rescued after being dumped in the country.
“Lucy wants to be petted 24 hours a day and she loves being around people,” she said. “P3T is the perfect job for her because she gets both.”
The pet therapy dogs typically will be booked to attend events, but some dogs will eventually have regular campus office hours to enable students, faculty and staff to visit when needed.
“I decided to let Jake try out for P3T since he did such good work during his previous therapy dog stint,” Hall said. “Many people comment what a happy dog Jake is when they meet him, wagging his tail the whole time. He is a sweet-natured dog and loves people to pet him and since he has such a soft coat, people love petting him too.”
P3T candidates underwent a physical exam and a disposition evaluation before being accepted into the P3T training program. The dogs and their handlers completed an eight-week training program before undergoing certification testing.
“Lily is so good with people, she’s fearless about meeting new people,” Cooper said. “I think she will be a good P3T therapy dog and will enjoy getting more belly scratches from students, faculty and staff.”
Pete’s Pet Posse was first launched in 2013 at OSU-Stillwater as a pilot program created by the OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, with cooperation from the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital, University Counseling, Human Resources and the Employee Assistance Program.
The goal of the program is to positively enhance physical and emotional health and contribute to the success of America’s Healthiest Campus Initiative launched in 2014.To learn more about P3T, visit http://p3tulsa.okstate.edu.