It was a brisk morning on Nov. 7 as Rowan University unveiled their anticipated new pet therapy program. The ribbon cutting ceremony was held outside the Wellness Center as Hachi, the face of the program and Gerald Shreiber’s dog, was on stage with the other speakers.
Chairman of Rowan Chad Bruner, director of the Wellness Center Scott Woodside, Rowan President Ali Houshmand, assistant director for the program Michele Pich, and Rowan student Julie Belcher all spoke at the event.
They thanked Shreiber, his establishment of the Shreiber Family Pet Therapy Program and the significance of having this program.
“Stress, anxiety and depression is very real,” Bruner said.
With the unveiling of the project, Rowan University is now the only university in the South Jersey region that has a full-time pet therapy program.
“Many Universities across the country have embraced the idea that pet therapy can provide both physical and emotional support to its communities,” Woodside said.
Shreiber shared his love for animals and the amazing impact they can have in someone’s life.
“I have four dogs, used to have six,” Shreiber said. “and seeing them just brightens up my day and suddenly the darkness shows light and you’re self-assured.”
The ribbon cutting was held after the speeches were finished. Adults and students were crammed before the yellow ribbon strip. The speakers lined up with oversized golden and silver scissors. At the same time, they cut the strip. Cheers and applauses rocked throughout the crowd.
While the ceremony focused on the importance of the program, it didn’t go into the specifics of how the Shreiber Family Pet Therapy Program will run. After the event, Pich went over the fine details of the program with whoever asked. For right now, there is only one therapy dog, Vivian, and she is Pich’s personal therapy dog.
“If I start to take things too seriously,” Pich said. “Then she’ll come up to me and give me that goofy smile and sit on my lap.”
The program is still going through some maintenance with the rules and procedures. To sign up for a pet therapy visit, there’s a form to fill out on the Wellness Center website. The program isn’t just for students but for anyone who has affiliations with Rowan.
Pich is the only one responding to the forms.
“I’m hoping to be able to respond within 48 to 72 hours,” Pich said. “A lot of the time I may be out with my dog on pet therapy visits. People can always follow-up through email.”
In the future, the University strives to have multiple therapy dogs. They are going to pair up with reputable therapy dogs and certified organizations. Pich is waiting for the paperwork and legal processes to be complete before announcing them.
When there are multiple therapy dogs, an individual can choose whether to have a group session or an individual session. The individual sessions will start at 15 minutes. The program will listen to the feedback given whether or not there needs to be more or less time. In group sessions, it will be about an hour. The space can hold up to five different dogs. The dogs will get breaks and when there’s multiple dogs there will be rotations.
Each therapy dog has a handler. This means that they’re a package deal.
“You’re certified as a dog and handler pair, so you can’t swap out the human and you can’t swap out the dog,” Pich said. “At all times during a visit, that handler has to have that dog on a leash and be part of that process. Essentially, you’d be doing a visit with the dog and handler team.”
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