Queens’ Health and Wellness Center this year introduced a new therapy dog to the community. The dog, Nola, is a 1-year-old golden retriever. Jill Perry, director of the center, recently discussed how Nola fits into the Queens environment.
How did you choose Nola?
I chose a golden retriever because of their history of service work. They’re good service animals – temperament, and they’re usually intelligent.
Are students ever afraid of dogs at the center?
If students are afraid of dogs, we make sure to put Nola in a kennel. If they have allergies, we take the same precautions.
How is Nola different from your previous dog, Drayco?
They’re a different color and gender. They’re about the same size and profile, and have the same calm temperament. I did not want to subconsciously try to replace Drayco.
What are some of the benefits of therapy dogs?
Things that you can work on with animals in therapy are self-esteem; feeling confidence. As the client actually has the dog follow commands, they get some self-confidence. Of course, there’s the unconditional love; the affection they provide and that sort of thing.
What is the Queens environment like for Nola?
I think it’s a wonderful environment. Just the fact that she gets to come to work, rather than sitting at home all day in the kennel, is huge. Clearly she gets a lot of affection from a lot of different people rather than having one owner. Also exercise because students will come and walk her or play with her in the backyard with the ball. So, more attention than just one person could give her. For a campus like Queens, because it’s small and intimate – the health center is not very high tech — having an animal there demystifies the health center and even destigmatizes counseling. That’s a positive thing.
What students tend to like Nola the most?
New students, particularly freshmen or transfers and students who are more introverted or shy, may have a more difficult time interacting with people but a less difficult time interacting with animals.
What has the training and certification process been like for Nola?
Doing the training has been really good because you’re training the person as much, if not more, than you’re training the dog. So, teaching me to be consistent and firm, but loving…those types of things. It’s been a really good learning experience for me. One thing that I found interesting when I looked at pet therapy is the difference between a service animal, which is an animal who relates just to one person, and animal-assisted therapy, which is an animal who relates to many people. So you need a dog that’s comfortable with lots of people and things – where all people are their friends.