Dog therapy at the library – overwhelmingly successful for the students, overwhelming for the dogs

Stress-reducing activities on campus during finals has been a popular trend lately.  We thought we’d try a dog therapy day near the end of the Block. This was indeed very popular but it may have contributed to my dog almost dying.

Some thoughts for other librarians who want to try such an event:

  1. Consider hiring an outside service run by experienced professionals.
  2. Another alternative is setting up volunteer time with an animal shelter.
  3. If 1. or 2. isn’t feasible, institute measures to limit the visiting time and/or number of visitors. You could require a donation to the local animal shelter or signing up ahead of time.
  4. Only use dogs who are friendly to people and not easily stressed.
  5. Separate dogs if you or the owners think certain dogs will be in conflict with each other — one way to do it is separating by size. Keep locations far-distant to decrease the amount of barking.
  6. Puppies: all our dogs were well-seasoned adults except for one of the corgis, who was more of a teenager. All were well- trained and didn’t have accidents. We got a few student comments expressing interest in puppies.  If you’re going to bring in puppies, either do it outside in a portable pen on the grass, or a surface that’s easily cleaned.

Our story:

Thinking we would only have a few students show up, I set up a 4 hour block of time when staff members would have friendly dogs in two locations, separated by dog size. (Little dogs sometimes attack big ones – to avoid that scenario we kept them separate and the locations far apart.)  This event was publicized in the student listserv and library building “tenants” were also notified.  Six dogs were involved: 2 Labrador retrievers, 1 golden retriever, 2 Welsh corgis, 1 full-sized dachshund and 1 miniature dachshund.

Far from being a slow day, we were inundated with hordes of students at both locations. Some students couldn’t even get into the largish office with the small dogs, because it was already so crowded with students. The human guests greatly enjoyed having dogs around and told us we should do this every Block or even every day at the library.

The easily-stressed dogs were only present for an hour or two hours.  However, even my hyper-social dog (a big yellow Labrador retriever named Brutus) got tired out after the third hour.  There were just too many students and hardly any breaks between visitors.  So it was great for the students but of the dogs it seems only the older, assertive corgi made it unscathed through 4 hours of constant petting and attention.

That night, I woke to hear Brutus crying in a strange, rhythmic way.  An emergency trip to the animal hospital at 1AM and it turned out he had GDV (Gastric Dilation – Volvulus), a condition where the stomach bloats and flips over 180 degrees.  It’s a sure, painful death if not operated on immediately.  GDV is often triggered by stress although the highest risk factor is a large dog with a deep, narrow chest like a greyhound’s (Brutus qualifies). Some days and $3,000+ later, he came through.  Thanks to pet insurance, I was reimbursed for a good portion of that.  Still, it was scary almost losing my dog.  Image

Brutus in his “cone of shame” after major surgery and a 3-day convalescence at the animal hospital. He is now completely recovered.

Tip to dog owners: if your dog has a deep, narrow chest, you may wish to consider the preventive surgery of gastropexy where the stomach is tacked down so it can’t flip during bloat.  This can be done via laparoscope (miminally invasive). Another tip: if your dog is acting strangely, tap his/her abdomen. If it’s stretched taut like a drum, call the local animal hospital to notify them you’re bringing a possible bloat case over and get your dog there as quickly as possible. Immediate care is essential for a good outcome.

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