Bringing in the Dogs

Therapy dog visits offer enjoyment for students, community engagement for handlers

Fogler Library has long been a popular location for students preparing for finals, but over the past several years, the UMaine community has flocked to the first floor of the library for an entirely different reason: to visit with therapy dogs.

The dogs, which include a mix of breeds and sizes from Labradors to Pappillons, began visiting the library during the spring of 2013, after a number of students left requests on the library’s suggestion board.

After researching therapy dog programs at other libraries, Fogler’s Marketing Committee hosted the first set of three visits during finals week of the spring semester.

Patrons at the library have welcomed the therapy dog visits, which offer busy students a chance to take a break from the pressures of final exams and papers. After seeing how popular the dogs were during finals, the staff at Fogler Library began bringing the dogs in during the first few weeks of the fall semester as a way to counter feelings of homesickness that some students experience during their first month on campus.

While the therapy dogs have proven to be a hit with students, the visits also give the dog handlers a great opportunity to give back to their community. Kristine Hoffmann, a Ph.D. candidate in Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology at UMaine, has brought her Labrador retriever, Emy, for the past several sessions.

Hoffmann began researching dog training when she got Emy as a puppy. When Emy turned three, she was able to pass the Therapy Dogs International test, which made her a certified therapy dog that could visit places like hospitals, nursing homes, and libraries.

“There was a nursing home across the street from the school I taught at,” Hoffmann says. “They were very excited when I offered to visit with my now-certified therapy dog. Emy adapted wonderfully to her new job, and the residents loved her.”

Soon after coming to UMaine, Hoffmann began introducing her dog to groups around campus, beginning with residence life.

“When I moved to Maine to return to school,” Hoffmann says, “I met a Resident Director and began bringing Emy to visit the dormitories. I would ask Emy to bark, students would open their doors, surprised to hear a dog, and come pet her.  I was visiting one of the dorms when I first learned about the dogs at Fogler.”

Since 2013, the visits have become one of the most popular events at Fogler Library, often drawing crowds of students who look forward to the visits every semester.

For students, the therapy dogs bring a relaxing change of pace. Many of the students who take time to visit the dogs already spend hours in the library working on their courses, so the visits give them a convenient stress-reliever at the time when they need it most.

During the visits, the handlers bring their dogs to a designated area in the Reserve Reading Room. The visits last for two hours, giving students a chance to see the dogs between classes. In many cases, groups of students will stay with the dogs throughout the session.

Seeing her dog bring joy to so many students has only reinforced Hoffmann’s appreciation for the role therapy dogs play at places like Fogler.

“The visits have been a great way for me to be involved with the [University of Maine]. I get to give back to the community in a unique and special way with my best friend. Plus, I love feeling connected to the library since I’m there all the time checking out books for my dissertation.”

This sense of giving back, and spending time with Emy, has made Hoffmann a regular fixture at the visits.

“It’s the joy my dog gets from the experience, my pride in my dog, the feeling of making a difference for other students, and being part of the community that keeps me coming back.”

This story was originally featured in the 2016 Raymond H. Fogler Library Magazine.