Despite the long hours he spends in the library, Beau will not be graduating any time soon.
But he is helping others on their way to diplomas.
“Whenever I am freaking out about exams or a paper, I come see him,” says Dan Parker, a senior at Loyola University, who has just been greeted affectionately by a 4-year-old golden-retriever mix, a “comfort dog” named Beau, who spends his days in the Monroe Library at Loyola University.
Six months ago, a serendipitous conversation between Naomi Yavneh Klos, director of Loyola University’s Honors Program, and an administrator there resulted in a dream come true.
“Knowing that anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges are prevalent in the college demographic — and certainly our own honors and general population here at Loyola — and also that so many of our students love animals and miss their dogs, I had wanted to get an Honors comfort dog for quite some time, but wasn’t sure how to go about it,” said Yavneh Klos, who knew of the benefits therapy dogs provide regarding stress reduction. Turns out, the administrator’s retriever mix was a certified comfort dog spending his days at home while his owner was at work.
Beau was quickly put to work in the campus library. His day job? Working his magical canine charms on stressed-out students.
“College and university students have very high levels of psychological distress,” says Molly Crossman, a doctoral student in psychology at Yale University, who recently led a study on the benefits of therapy dogs on college campuses.
Her research indicated that even brief sessions of downtime can be enhanced if they are spent hanging out with a dog.
There are over 925 colleges and universities across the country that have used therapy animal programs as a way to help alleviate that stress.
“Therapy dogs are compelling as a way to alleviate student distress because they are so appealing to students and relatively low cost to provide,” says Crossman.
Shortly after the 70-pound golden dog arrived, news of a canine presence spread, and students from all over campus were gravitating to the honors corner of the library where Beau was headquartered. He became a comfort dog for the entire campus.
For Rebecca Huskey, a student at the law school next door, Beau was a reminder of home.
“I came here from the U.K., and I was new not only to this country, but also to the university,” says Huskey, who upon discovering a congenial dog within a short walking distance told everyone about Beau on Facebook.
“He’s real. I told everyone he’s real, and took photos to prove it,” says Huskey.
“We have discovered that students miss their dogs more than siblings and parents,” says Yavneh Klos. “You can call your parents or siblings.”
“Beau provides a sense of home,” says Rachel Dufour, an honors student from Memphis, who is among the students who see to it that Beau’s schedule is followed, tracking his three walks and making sure he gets no more than two treats a day.
No matter how much students want to spoil Beau, they respect the restriction that he is not allowed any people food. And Beau always wears his service vest while working on campus.
“Students take him visiting throughout campus and I have occasionally brought him to class or meetings, including some off-campus,” says Yavneh Klos. “I know a lot of people on campus, and they are very friendly, but (Beau) is a rock star.”
“So far, there is very little empirical evidence that these (therapy dog) programs really help. Instead, most of the programs rely on anecdotal reports that they are effective and that students like them,” says Crosswell.
“Our lab did one of the first studies to directly evaluate these programs, and we did find that a brief (7-10 minute) unstructured interaction with a dog reduced anxiety and improved mood. However, we really need more research to tell us how strong that effect is, how it works, how long it lasts, and who it is most likely to benefit,” said Crosswell.
Despite the fact that dog as student’s best friend is still up for scientific measurement, Loyola’s Yavneh Klos sees Beau as an ambassador fulfilling the Jesuit university’s creed: cura personalis, or care of the entire person.