Furry friends added to Student Health and Counseling team

The University of Tennessee at Martin Student Health and Counseling Services has added two therapy dogs to their team of qualified professionals. The pups, Dolly and Miss Doc, will be available for counseling sessions and on-campus events with a goal of engaging the university community with student health.

The Student Health and Counseling Services staff decided the campus needed this extra support after researching the positive impacts of dogs on college campuses.

“Studies show that students have a lower heart rate and less anxiety when they are interacting with dogs,” said Shannon Deal, director of Student Health and Counseling Services. “We want students to have the option to be comforted by Dolly and Miss Doc after a hard day or week.”

The dogs came from local breeders Clint and Charity Riley, 2001 UTM graduates, and are sponsored in part by Dr. Rodney “Doc” Thomsen, professor emeritus of agricultural economics. Thomsen graduated from UT Martin with his undergraduate degree in agricultural education in 1971 and returned to teach as an agricultural economics faculty member from 1975 to 2002. He was the longtime director of UT Martin’s West Tennessee Agricultural Pavilion. After hearing about the need for therapy dogs at his alma mater, he purchased “Miss Doc” and is helping fund the therapy program.

The dogs, still only a few months old, will be in therapy training until their first birthday in October. Neel Durbin, former director of Dyersburg City Schools, is working in conjunction with Student Health and Counseling Services to train the dogs.

“His (Durbin) philosophy is that we should lead the training, and he should lead us,” said Deal. “We will be working with the dogs daily, so it is important that they are comfortable with us and our leadership.”

While they won’t be fully certified for months, Dolly and Miss Doc will be available for socialization. Students can request to have the dogs in their therapy sessions, and the counselors will decide on a case-by-case basis the benefits for each student. Students not in counseling sessions are welcome to stop by Student Health and Counseling Services at any time to see the pups, as long as they aren’t scheduled for another visit.

UT Martin Student Health and Counseling Services is committed to delivering professional mental and physical health services to the student body. By adding therapy dogs to existing health and counseling services, faculty and staff hope to improve emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social well-being for all UT Martin students.

To follow Dolly and Miss Doc on Instagram, visit @utmtherapydogtors. For more information on the therapy dog program or about Student Health and Counseling Services, contact Deal at schs@utm.edu or 731-881-7750.


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