After a popular outing on Flunk Day where at least one student literally chased her down to pet her, Counseling Services has begun offering a new form of therapy in the form of 15-minute sessions with Olive, a Bichon Shih Tzu mix.
“It just gives me joy to share my little love with people. And to know, even for just a moment in time … the joy that she can bring to people” said Intake Coordinator Claire Palmer, Olive’s owner.
While Counseling Services had initially intended to wait until the fall to begin formally offering therapy with Olive, it was decided that they would begin testing her out and getting student feedback with the currently offered appointments.
“I think I had nine students last week and some students when they left they set up the appointment for the next week,” Palmer said.
Palmer felt that depending on student needs, pet therapy could both be an addition to conventional therapy or an effective stand alone resource. The therapy sessions were described by Palmer as a calm setting where students had the option of speaking with her about their issues, or simply relaxing with Olive.
“The first three or four students that came in, they just laid on the floor with her. There’s no pressure for anyone to talk to me,” Palmer said.
While therapy pets are thought to help with general mental health issues like reducing stress as well as reducing blood pressure, Palmer felt that anybody could benefit from interacting with them.
“It’s all about comfort … especially for students here at Knox that are away from home, away from their pets and just wanting a sense of what’s familiar,” Palmer said.
Therapy pets like Olive are not considered service animals, but do go through a certification process. Palmer stated that Olive was certified through a program called Pet Partners, which involves an online course followed by a team evaluation of what settings would be appropriate for the pet.
Olive was given to Palmer while she was employed at UC San Diego and spent time at a veterans facility that Palmer still makes occasional visits to.
“This one guy in particular, I went down there one time and didn’t have her and he was almost mad at me … people expect to see her. They want to see her,” Palmer said.
Palmer said she welcomes students who simply spot her and Olive on campus to come up and spend time with them, enjoying both meeting these students and the other pets that populate Knox. Palmer, who has gotten experience at schools in multiple other states, has found Knox extraordinary in this regard.
“This is an extremely pet friendly campus … I don’t think I’ve ever seen a campus that’s more pet friendly,” said Palmer.
Palmer hopes that the pet therapy sessions with Olive will prove a valuable resource for students at Knox dealing with the various stresses of college life, believing that pet therapy taps into the core of what makes people happy.
“I think it just goes back to basic human needs. We all want to be loved. We all want to be accepted, we want to be loved unconditionally,” Palmer said.