Shippensburg University's cure for college homesickness: Dogs

Written by David Barr, Public Opinion Online | Oct 21, 2015 2:00 PM
shippensburg U dog and students.jpg

Shippensburg University students Abigail Cox, left, Sam Conely-Vaverchak, Heather Ritter, Devon Donahue, Vanessa Thomas and Morgan Mellott gather Tuesday around 'Dotty,' a therapy dog during a Home@Ship session on the SU campus. Students who are homesick are welcome to spend time petting dogs and meet new people during the program sessions. (David Barr -- Public Opinion)

(Shippensburg) -- They say that a dog is man's best friend, but thanks to Shippensburg University, the dog is now a student's best friend.

Students who are looking to assuage their homesickness or looking to bond with and make new friends can do so with the help of a dog. Home@Ship -- started by Dr. Michelle Olexa, chairman of the department of counseling services and interim associate dean Dr. Denise Yarwood -- is a program that brings students together to know one another.

"It gives them an opportunity to meet people they wouldn't normally meet," Yarwood said.

The draw for the event is a dog there to welcome students and act as the bonding subject matter for the students.

"Even the shyest people feel like they can find their voice when talking about a dog," Olexa said. Olexa added social interactions can be more relaxed when there is an animal around.

Home@Ship is catered towards those who are lost or are having trouble adjusting to campus life, but anyone and everyone is welcome to come to the event. So far the event has been averaging about 20 students per meeting.

Held every other week, students meet in a recreation room in one of the dorms and meet new people and a new dog. On Tuesday evening, students who visited had the opportunity to meet Dotty, a golden retriever. Dotty would run to the door to welcome new visitors and often extend a paw to shake while being petted and doted upon during the hour-long session.

Olexa said she has been having therapy dogs on campus since 2003, but this Home@Ship program is in its first semester this year. She has done other programs in the past and the ones with dogs were "always the most popular" according to Olexa.

Freshman student Abigail Cox has attended all the Home@Ship programs this semester, most with her roommate. Since she "never felt at home here" she thought going to these programs would help her.

"I enjoy meeting new people, and the dog helps. It's very comforting to have a dog there," Cox said.

Dotty was brought in after her owner, Helen Skiba-Powell, had a conversation with a friend and member of the 4H Puppy Club. Her friend asked her if she would be interested in bringing Dotty in to participate in the program.

"I think this is a wonderful program. I think the individuals who started this saw a need and the need is being met," Skiba-Powell said.

Olexa hopes that the program can get to the point where the atmosphere feels like a family night back home for students.

"I envision this growing and growing every semester," Olexa said.

David Barr can be reached at 717-262-4752.

This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF. 

Published in Cumberland County, News

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