General program description:

Paws to De-Stress is a program where MSU Library, in partnership with Intermountain Therapy Animals, hosts a series of open visiting hours with registered therapy dogs during the last two weeks of each semester.

A schedule is set with 2 hour time blocks each day M-F, varying from morning, mid-day to evening, when volunteers bring in their registered therapy dogs. Our schedule of times is advertised in various ways, and anyone is encouraged to come spend some time with the dogs. Mostly students attend, and stay for any length of time from 30 seconds to 30 minutes; some just watch the dogs with a smile, others go right in to pet the dogs quickly before getting on their way, some gather in circles around them, while a few stay and talk for a while, petting the dogs in turn.  

Our program was developed to help ease some stress during finals time, and there is research that shows using dogs in a therapy setting has multiple benefits including reduced blood pressure and decreased stress levels of participants. While we target students, Paws to De-Stress is free and open to the public.

Spring of 2012 was our first semester, and we have continued the program during Fall and Spring semesters ever since.

Background information collected prior to starting the program:

Information on other libraries who had started programs was collected to show the program was warranted. Preliminary research into the positive effects of therapy animals on humans was also collected when preparing the program proposal to show evidence from research.

Steps taken to implement this program, including gaining approval:

After hearing about similar programs at other libraries, the dean of the library was approached to see if he was supportive of implementing a therapy dog program at MSU Library. He was quite supportive, so a formal proposal was drafted and presented to the Executive Team in the library.

The proposal outlined the benefits of a therapy dog program for students and the library, as well as the program logistics including a proposed schedule, location in the library, a plan to promote the event and address concerns about allergies and fears, and how the program would be assessed.

The library executive team approved the idea, and our Dean took it to the Provost of the University, and then the President of the University, who gave official approval for the program. After getting approval from the University President, it was much easier to implement the program, because there is a University Policy stating that no animals except service animals are allowed in buildings on campus; however the University President has the ability to waive any university policy.  Because the library was given direct approval, we were then able to simply communicate to other appropriate departments that the program had been approved and would be taking place each fall and spring semester, and ask if there were any procedures the library needed to follow before or during implementation. The departments we contacted included HR, Safety & Risk Management department, Disability Services, and University Police. It was determined that HR required a copy of ITA’s liability waiver to be sent each semester before the event takes place, but no other procedures were required. We then proceeded with our proposed plan to schedule, promote, put on and assess the program.

After gaining approval, we set a schedule, and then Intermountain Therapy Animals handled the scheduling of their volunteers during those time slots. We promoted our event, and then hosted it.

Addressing allergies and phobias:

We set a location in the library that can be easily avoided, and is away from service points, so that if people have allergies or phobias, they can stay away. We utilize lots of signage in the area where dogs will be present, including the schedule of times so that users will be aware that dogs will be in the area. We try to promote our program schedule while also being considerate of allergies and fears, so that our users know what to expect and can make informed choices.

Assessment & attendance:

We have library staff and student employees sign up for hour slots during the event to take attendance, welcome students, and encourage them to fill out our survey. We take attendance during every session, but do not track how long people stay. We change survey questions periodically, and have asked questions such as ‘Did the therapy dogs help reduce your stress level?’.  We also gather flip chart comments that provide insight on students perceived benefits. Almost all comments are positive, and many related to stress, finals, or study breaks.

Use of registered Therapy Animals:

All animals have been through testing with their handlers to ensure they have the appropriate temperament and obedience skills to be registered as a therapy dog. We partner with Intermountain Therapy Animals, and they schedule volunteers who have been registered through their program. All therapy dog teams are covered with liability insurance through Intermountain Therapy Animals.

Bozeman is lucky enough to have an active volunteer organization in our community, with a volunteer pool to tap into.  Their organization of volunteers is enthusiastic and large enough that they can support a program like ours.

For more information, visit www.therapyanimals.org.

Written consent:

We do not require written consent, and our event is free and open to anyone. However, because the therapy animals we bring in have liability insurance through ITA, they would be covered individually from a legal standpoint.

Publications about our program:

None yet, but we are planning to publish.

Additional information:

We have created a Paws to De-Stress Educational Handout to distribute across campus.

For more information on Intermountain Therapy Animals, visit their website at http://www.therapyanimals.org