Posted: December 11, 2013 at 7:30 am

By Ian Moore, Jeremy Jenkins, William Posey

As finals loom, West Virginia University has found a new way to help students relax: a therapy dog named Gretel.

Gretel sits waiting to greet anyone in the Carruth Center

Gretel sits waiting to greet anyone in the Carruth Center

Starting this school year, The Carruth Center offers students the opportunity to hang out with Gretel, a 2-year-old labradoodle. Gretel provides students attending the Carruth Center with a sense of familiarity that can give them a feeling of calm.

Originally planned to be a full service dog, Gretel turned out to be a bit smaller than expected.  Gretel’s handler, Huey Mei Nga, thought Gretel still had what it took to help people.

“She has a huge heart, so even though she was not big enough, I knew she would be a great therapy dog,” says Nga.

Even though she didn’t fulfill her original purpose of being a service dog, Gretel has found a great way to help students as a therapy dog. A dog like Gretel is great for the Carruth Center, as she greets visitors and makes them feel welcome.

“I can see how comfortable she makes those who come in, she makes this experience a little easier for those who seek help,” says Nga.

According to National Geographic News, therapy dogs are being used to boost the spirits of people who are in need. These therapy dogs respond and are friendly to multiple people, as opposed to service dogs who only serve their one master. This makes therapy dogs useful for several situations.

Michelle Matson, a counseling graduate student studying therapy dogs, points out the positives of therapy dogs.

“Therapy dogs are good at sensing when people are in need of comfort at times of distress,” says Matson.  She adds, “Not only is a therapy dog psychologically beneficial for those who need it, but also physically beneficial, as they decrease stress, anxiety, and even blood-pressure.”

Smithsonian Magazine claims the return of soldiers from overseas has given a whole new purpose to therapy dogs. Post traumatic stress disorder, also know as PTSD, has become more commonly publicized in the new millennium. The varying degrees of symptoms including depression, easy startling, and sensory overloads, are now being treated with these therapy dogs.

The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners lists a number of tasks therapy dogs can perform in order to help people cope with their PTSD. The dogs can be trained to notice if their owner is becoming overwhelmed by noise or other sensory factors around them. The dog then distracts them from the event, which helps them keep a sense of calm.

Gretel is also providing a similar sense of calm to WVU students facing the stressful final season. Gretel was part of the chillWell event that took place during dead week. This event included massages, meditation courses, and a furry friend to visit with.