Sometimes the best of human intentions requires a hand—or paw—from the animal world. At least that’s what a team of Global Citizenship students from Minnesota School of Business discovered when they sought an outreach project at Opportunity Matters, a local nonprofit serving to empower individuals with disabilities.
The team of students, all in the massage therapy program, understand the importance of touch and relaxation when working with special populations.
“We wanted to bring comfort to people,” explained student Coleen Weber, “and dogs do bring comfort to just about anyone; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a trained therapy dog.”
While researching the project, students learned there is a difference between service dogs, individually trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate the disability of their owner, and therapy dogs, which provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with learning difficulties.
Brenda Eggerth, volunteer and communications coordinator at Opportunity Matters, agrees that success with the residents depends more on the disposition of the dog than on its specific breed or training and encouraged the students to bring a dog with them to the facility.
The students met challenges when selecting an appropriate dog for the occasion, but finally settled on Cocoa, massage therapy student Taylor Lynch’s personal pet.
“He was really just calm,” said Lynch. “He sat right down with the people and was mellow.”
The student presentation outlined the benefits of a therapy dog, including stress relief, depression mitigation and sleep pattern improvement. In the end, everyone agreed the best part was Cocoa.
“Cocoa was so approachable,” said Weber. “The residents liked petting him, and he gave some licks out. One resident who was in a wheelchair and in hospice was out in the living room, (dozing off and on) and one of the ladies put his hand on Cocoa’s head, and he smiled.”
Weber laughed that even during the “Grease” dance party, Cocoa “got into the act.”
“This was such a rewarding project,” she reflected. “It is important to me to bring comfort to people, and I hope to get a dog someday to bring with me, as I am planning to do some volunteering at Opportunity Matters.”
Lynch agreed that the project made a big impact on her. “It’s something where if I get the extra time, I would definitely want to do it again.”
Practicing social responsibility felt particularly rewarding to this group of students when delivered with the help of a canine friend.