A new fuzzy face in Emory's Counseling and Psychological Services

By Leslie King | Emory Report | Dec. 11, 2017

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Two years ago, Emory’s Student Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) got its first therapy dog, Beowulf, a Native American Indian dog who assists with therapy and attends special events.

Two years later, CAPS has a second dog: Beowulf’s little brother, Finn. The nine-month-old Finn is a product of a second litter, the first having produced Beowulf, making Finn a full sibling to Beowulf.

Both dogs are contract workers at CAPS.

“Finn has been brought on in the last few weeks. He’s all fresh and raring to go,” says Colleen Duffy, therapist and interim training director at CAPS, and owner of the canine siblings. 

Did CAPS hope to add to its services with a second dog? Before Duffy answers, she checks what Finn has picked up, as he dives into all of Beowulf’s toys. “We’re just incredibly vigilant with what he’s got in his mouth,” Duffy says. Beowulf tolerates Finn’s expropriation of her toys until she decides it’s time to show little brother who is the alpha dog and puts him in his place. 

“People were always asking ‘are you going to get a second dog?’ We didn’t really have plans to until he came along and we were asked if we’d take him,” Duffy continues. “Because we had so many requests from the community, it’s like ‘ah, a second dog. We could trade them in and out.’ And he’s got the temperament for it.”

In addition to participating in animal-assisted therapy, Beowulf has attended almost 50 events in the two years she’s been with CAPS.

“We had no idea how popular she would be, so we were getting a lot of outreach requests for her in the community,” her owner explains. “She did some of those, but it’s a different set of skills.”

When Finn came along with his social temperament, he naturally fit that niche of special events. With Beowulf, it’s more trauma work, whereas Finn is out and about “being a cute little presence and representing CAPS as well,” Duffy says.

Temperamentally, the two siblings are very different dogs.

Beowulf, who is almost three years old, has a docile, calming temperament, while Finn is a “party boy,” she says.

“He loves people. He’s very friendly, sniffy, likes to say ‘hi’ and give hugs and little kisses,” Duffy says.

The impact of therapy dogs

Wanda Collins, assistant vice president of counseling and psychological services, calls Beowulf “a wonderful addition” to the CAPS staff and expects Finn to be equally helpful.

“Whenever I am out on campus talking with groups of students, they express enthusiasm that we have a therapy dog and most have seen or heard of Beowulf. She’s our most popular staff member!” Collins says. “Adding Finn, with his friendly demeanor, to our outreach initiatives will bring a lot of joy to Emory students.”

Since being on staff, Finn has already worked at several events. The first was with Beowulf, a meet-and-greet at Alabama Residence Hall. His first solo event was the Wonderful Wednesday for the Respect Program to promote the Take Back the Night march and rally.

“There were over 200 people he interacted with,” Duffy says.

Finn has also attended an Active Minds speak-out where stories about mental health issues and related struggles were read; the library’s pet therapy study break; and a meet-and-greet with nurse anesthetists.

Interacting with students, Finn is very, very friendly. “When anyone passes by, he wants to say hi. He’s Mr. Social,” Duffy says.

She also describes Finn as “a special needs boy,” noting that he has congenital cataracts. 

Because of his visual impairment, Finn could not be trained as a service dog.

“We have to be more vigilant around stairs. He can see shadows and movement, relying a lot on his sense of scent because he’s really quite visually impaired,” Duffy explains, demonstrating by tossing a ball near Finn, who doesn’t turn his head toward the ball as it bounces close by.

“He’s seen the ophthalmologist and when he’s a year old, he may be eligible for cataract surgery,” she says. “I think having a dog that has a disability is really cool as well.”

As Duffy’s duties at CAPS have shifted, she says she and Finn “will do events that are the best bang for my time and his time and when can we do it, what is reasonable. A lot of the stress reduction events he’ll do, as well as end-of-the-year special events, like the Campus Life holiday luncheon.”

“We try to make as many events as we can,” she says, adding that they do need notice ahead of time to attend.

Duffy says the two dogs are very well-suited for their respective jobs.

Duffy will be doing more training around animal-assisted therapy with Beowulf, now that she’s three years old. With Finn, the training will center more on the social meet-and-greets and “being polite.”

Beowulf has raised the profile of CAPS on campus and Finn does it even more.

“Many people come in and just ask for Beowulf,” Duffy notes. “They say ‘I don’t want therapy; I just want the dog.’ So she is an incredible rock star.” 

For those who’ve experienced trauma or acute anxiety, Beowulf can be very soothing. “She’s really gifted at being highly attuned to people who have been interpersonally harmed or struggling with grief and loss. She’s done exceptional work,” Duffy says. 

She gets a lot of requests from other counseling centers who want to know how they can get a therapy dog. 

“I have a presentation that talks about the differences between service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support dogs. I think other people are realizing the impact that dogs can have,” she says. “I’m incredibly grateful to Dean Ajay Nair and Wanda Collins in Campus Life for their support and recognition of the benefits of having the dogs at Emory.”