Recently, as part of our Phenomenal Women Speaker Series, we welcomed Dr. Laura Palmer, Dr. Adriana Dunn, and their dog, Bonne Prince Harry, to campus.
Dr. Palmer and Dr. Dunn are psychologists who work in Madison, New Jersey. Bonne Prince Harry is a hypoallergenic Teddybear Goldendoodle who works in their office as a certified therapy dog. Their talk focused on the many therapeutic benefits of animal-human interactions in addition to possible career paths for students interested in psychology and/or working with animals.
Many of our students are animal lovers, and we have many girls who especially love dogs. Everyone seemed to enjoy having a dog on campus for the Phenomenal Women talk. As our two visitors spoke, Bonne Prince Harry walked around the aisles in the Carney Center and greeted everyone with smiles and some licks, too. His presence alone seemed to lighten everyone's spirits after a long day at school. Dr. Palmer and Dr. Dunn explained that when humans interact with animals, it can increase people's levels of the hormone oxytocin. This is hugely beneficial because it makes people feel happy and trusting of animals. In turn, this helps to increase the human and animal connection to form a deeper bond over time. Oxytocin can act as an antidote to depressive thoughts and feelings. Hence, the simple act of petting animals can release this automatic relaxation response which can help to elevate one's mood.
Dr. Palmer and Dr. Dunn explained how dogs and many other animals can be used in different roles to help humans. They taught us about some common types of service animals and the differences in the definitions of what they are used and trained for.
An assistance service dog is a dog that is trained in certain tasks to mitigate a handler's disability. An example of this would be a Seeing Eye Dog, which helps its owner to complete activities of daily living safely. These dogs are permitted with their handler in any public place. Assistance service dogs require highly extensive training to perform specific tasks to help their handler.
An emotional support animal is a dog or another animal whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support to its owner. Emotional support animals come in all shapes and sizes. Dr. Palmer and Dr. Dunn gave examples of people having emotional support mini-horses, lizards, and even a peacock! Emotional support animals are allowed in the owner's home, college dormitories and airplanes as outlined in the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act. Emotional support animals must have basic manners and training.
Lastly, a therapy animal is a temperament-tested pet that provides comfort in an approved facility. An example of this would be a therapy dog who visits hospitals to comfort patients. These animals are granted permission to visit designated facilitates. Therapy animals must have basic obedience training and proper temperaments to be able to act appropriately in social situations.
Dr. Palmer and Dr. Dunn were very helpful and informative with spreading their knowledge of the field of psychology and teaching us about the therapeutic benefits of animal-human interactions. It was a fantastic evening, and we are so thankful that we had the opportunity to welcome them to campus.