Gizmo the Therapy Dog Brings Wellness Focus to Campus

Turnout was high for Woof Wednesday, held Dec. 6 at the Rutgers–Camden Paul Robeson Library. About 50 students attended the event that was a mix of talking about dogs and engaging with Gizmo, a Pekinese Shih Tzu therapy animal. The event, a collaboration by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, the Writers House, Paul Robeson Library, the Office of Disability Services, PAWS for People, and the Student Wellness Center, provided a much-needed dose of relaxation in advance of final exams and highlighted the role canine companions can play in reducing stress. 

Jillian Sayre, associate professor of English, spoke about her recent article, “But for his dog: Companion Animals in American Frontier Narratives” and how important companion animals had been in frontier life.  

“Having animal companions was sometimes vital for survival,” said Sayer. She said the stories of 19th-century novelist James Fenimore Cooper highlighted the human benefits of interfacing with the natural world.

Tyler Fleser, an MFA student and a lifelong dog owner, said, “You can’t go wrong talking about dogs and literature.”

Gizmo was happy to engage with students and demonstrate how relating to animals serves a therapeutic purpose. Students were able to hold Gizmo, feed him treats, and take a welcome break from end-of-semester obligations.

Stacy Haynes, a clinical and health educator from the Student Wellness Center, said animals help bring down stress levels. “A relaxed brain is not a stressed brain,” she said. “Events such as Woof Wednesdays provide a wellness pathway and enable us to reach students where they are. Sometimes students are reluctant to make an appointment for counseling, so our counselors are here today to touch base with students who may then choose to make an appointment.”

Honors College junior Christina Sangillo sat on the floor with Gizmo while feeding him treats and giving him cuddles. Sangillo said, as a commuter student, she finds value in events held during the school day. “It’s not always easy to attend events in the evening, so to be able to come here has been fun.”

Haynes added that the Student Wellness Center helps students learn strategies they can use to propel themselves academically by balancing their mental and emotional well-being.  “Wellness Wednesdays are more than self-care events,” she said. “These events are focused on the entire well-being of students.”

Creative Design: Douglas Shelton
Photography: Ron Downes Jr.