Since 2012, Bailey has been a consistent canine presence at Mercyhurst’s Cohen Health Center.
While some students may have visited the lower offices of the Wellness Center for medical services, the Center helps to provide mental and emotional support for students as well.
The Center houses a relaxation room which students are free to enter Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Resident therapy dog, Bailey, will be there to greet them.
Bailey, a four-year-old Havenese, is both a consummate professional and loving companion, according Judy Smith, Ph.D., director of the Mercyhurst Wellness Center. Smith has raised and trained Bailey since he was eight weeks old.
“I’ve brought him to work with me every day since,” Smith said.
This dedication to Mercyhurst is not purely for fun, however. Bailey has a job to do. He serves as a therapy dog to Mercyhurst students.
“Studies have shown that therapy dogs can lower anxiety and improve the moods of patients,” said Smith. “Animal therapy is well known in the mental health profession.”
Therapeutic animal interaction is particularly popular in the armed forces and nursing home environments, according to Smith.
“There are even therapy cats,” Smith said. However, the introduction of cats to Mercyhurst is unlikely.
Bailey was chosen in particular because of his Havenese breed. Members of the Bichon family, Havenese are known for their gentle temperament, medium size and hypoallergenic fur.
“They are generally quiet and not aggressive,” Smith said.
Smith chose Bailey after researching therapy animals with the help of her granddaughter, Bethany Robertson, a Mercyhurst senior. Together, they raised and trained Bailey to recognize loud sounds, emotional distress and respond to obedience commands.
An avid dog lover, Smith has two other pets, a Havenese and a German Shepherd mix that keep Bailey company away from the school.
Regardless of his breeding, Bailey has always been special.
“He was born like a little Buddha,” said Smith. She does not believe that her other companions have what it takes to be mental health professionals.
Smith was initially inspired to introduce therapy dogs to the Mercyhurst Wellness Center after the unfortunate death of a dance major nearly four years ago.
“We borrowed therapy dogs from another Wellness Center in the area, and students responded very well. It was a positive experience for us,” Smith said.
Bailey currently has big plans for his future. He and Smith hope to complete his certification as a crisis dog, where he can extend his services to large groups of people during disasters.
“I want him to take one more obedience course before the test,” Smith said. She and Bailey have been steadily training with the help of some Mercyhurst students.
Smith appreciates all of the effort that Bailey and others have been investing in his progress. She does not mind student involvement.
“It is important to note that therapy dogs are not service dogs,” said Smith.
“These dogs do not help handicapped people or track drugs. They provide emotional support and companionship.”
Bailey recently hosted an open house at the Wellness Center this past Wednesday, Feb. 4. He, along with the rest of the Wellness staff, are happy to welcome students to come the center every Wednesday for special events focused on holistic heath education and treatment.