Minnesota State University, Mankato, Dean’s Office Hires Furry Advisor

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By: Morgan Stolpa

Incoming and returning students are finding they can relieve stress on-campus in a way they never could have imagined. The therapists are the furry, four-legged kind that deliver a dose of kindness by just being dogs.

Among those canines making a difference on campus is Willow, part of a dedicated effort on campus to offer therapy dogs to students.

How Willow’s position began:

“We are always looking for new and creative ways to interact with students. Research shows animals can have a positive impact on reducing stress, anxiety etc. which are all things that come with the college experience,” said Student Relations Coordinator Gina Maahs-Zurbey.

“Academic advising can also be stressful and we understand a number of students leave a family pet at home when they go away to college,” she added. “Knowing what a great temperament Willow has, I pitched the idea to our Dean. He loved it, and I ran with it from there.”

How the idea got started:

Zurbey was working in the Dean’s Office as a Student Relations Coordinator when she came up with the idea to incorporate a therapy dog into the office regularly throughout the semester.

The process was long, but Zurbey worked hard to see her idea come to life.

“All in all, it was about a year and a half in the making. Everything from the training, testing and working with MSU Administration to get Willow Wednesdays approved,” said Zurbey.

About Willow:

Photo by Pat Christman: The Free Press

Instead of advising students, Willow provides comfort to them. The 3-year-old Labradoodle receives visitors every Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in her office located in Armstrong Hall, Room 226. She even has a plaque that says “Willow Room” right outside of her door.

There are no appointments required:

Anyone can simply as stop by the Dean’s Office in Armstrong Hall, room 226 and sign a liability waiver. After signing a waiver, students are encouraged to play, pet and even give Willow treats. If students ask nicely with please or pretty please she can perform a number of tricks from sit to speak.

Students are encouraged to visit Willow every Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. If interested, students can contact Gina Maahs-Zurbey at gina.maahs-zurbey@mnsu.eduor drop by the advising office, Room 226 in Armstrong Hall to sign a liability waiver and meet Willow, the Labradoodle. For further questions, contact the Dean’s Office.

About Therapy Dogs on College Campuses:

Universities all across the United State use therapy dogs to encourage students to be more comfortable, healthy and stress free.

At Minnesota State Mankato, a permanent therapy dog holds weekly sessions to heal students and faculty both mentally and physically.

Additionally, the University hosts several events on-campus with therapy dogs, “Kanine Kisses and Hound Hugs,” which are held every third Thursday of the month in the Centennial Student Union in the Lincoln Lounge. There are several  sessions held during both spring and fall final’s weeks on-campus.

College students experience an overwhelming amount of stress during the school year. Whether it be volunteering, working, studying, or missing the comforts of home. Students need a heathy outlet to relieve their stress. 

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