Cori Erwin

(Rock Hill S.C.) — As the semester begins to heat up and many students face midterm exams, therapy dogs are once again bringing comfort to Winthrop University students.

On the first, third, and fifth Wednesdays of each month, from 11-12:30 p.m., the Student Activities office at Winthrop and their partners from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) bring four-legged friends to meet passing students in the lobby of the DiGiorgio Campus Center.

ATD is an international, volunteer-based organization whose goal is to form a network of owners and therapy dogs who are willing to go out and spread joy at no cost to the groups they visit.

Patricia Riley, assistant director for student organizations and leadership and founder of the therapy dog program, said Winthrop has had therapy dogs regularly visiting campus since January 2015.

“It’s really just a low-key, fun program that puts smiles on faces, and if it relieves stress for a day or two, or a couple minutes, I think it’s worth it from that perspective,” said Riley.

While many college students don’t have a lifestyle that supports owning a pet, Riley, who had access to therapy dogs when she was a student, said there are benefits to having dogs on campus.

According to the ATD website, interacting with dogs in a school setting can help reduce student stress and anxiety, increase class attendance and improve learning.

Additionally, a number of schools, including the University of South Carolina in Columbia, have employed full-time therapy dogs that keep “office hours.”

Riley said the therapy dog program has allowed her to connect with a number of Winthrop students.

“Any student can stop by and pet a dog and I have met very different students and had very different conversations with students petting a therapy dog than…(in) the office,” said Riley. “It kind of changes that setting. It’s a more informal setting.”

Diane McDermott, an ATD volunteer and “pet momma” to therapy dogs Lacy and Josie, said she regularly visits Winthrop and elementary schools.

therapy dog
Therapy dog Josie is happiest when she is working with the students, according to her owner and ATD volunteer Diane McDermott (photo: Cori Erwin).

“They (the students) love it,” said McDermott. “They get so excited. They want to love on the dogs and the dogs are just like, ‘Here I am, love me.’”

Winthrop student Lauren Pace said she never misses a chance to visit the therapy dogs when they’re on campus.

“Just getting to see the dogs on a day that is stressful in the middle of the week,” said Pace. “They definitely helped my friend, because she just had a really bad day and she was like, ‘Can you go order me food so I can go play with the dogs?’ So she got to play with them.”

McDermott said she has seen the therapy dog program change the lives of the students in the schools she visits.

“It’s just a great program. It’s great for those of us who participate and it’s wonderful for the people who get to see the dogs,” said McDermott.

The therapy dogs will also have a special visit on study day, April 23, to help relieve any end-of-semester stress many students may face.

“She just has this look of utter pleasure,” said McDermott about her dog Josie. “She’s happiest doing what she’s doing.” (photo: Cori Erwin)

According to Riley, Wally is one of the fan-favorites among Winthrop students during the therapy dog visits each month.