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Therapy dogs a calming presence during finals week

By Emily Rushton

Certified therapy animals are used in a variety of situations to help people in need – and last week, students were able to spend time with a group of therapy dogs when they needed it most: finals week.

Tyler Higgins, account executive for Unified Communications, was excited to be a part of that. He and his certified therapy dog, Cookie, participated in the event on April 24 that brought a group of therapy dogs and their owners into the Marriott library - for no other reason than to provide a sense of comfort and calm to the students.

“The students were more engaged and appreciative and grateful than I expected,” said Higgins. “They made a lot of comments like ‘this is my favorite part of finals week; I love it when you guys come.’”

The event was coordinated by Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA), a non-profit organization founded in 1993 that specializes in providing animal-assisted therapy.

Higgins said he first became interested in getting Cookie certified to be a therapy animal after talking with Anita Sjoblom, Product Manager for Common Infrastructure Services, who’s been volunteering with ITA for 16 years. Sjoblom’s therapy dog, Captain Hook, had volunteered longer than any other animal at ITA – 15 years – before passing away almost two years ago.

“He volunteered the week before he passed away,” said Sjoblom. “He was just one of those dogs. He did everything.”

Sjoblom’s work with ITA inspired Higgins to get involved.

“In talking with Anita and listening to her experiences about what animals can really do for people in need, I started thinking, you know what, my dog sounds like she would fit right into that,” said Higgins.

Cookie, a 4-year-old English Cream Retriever, was originally the family breeding dog, but Higgins was able to retire her at the end of 2013 and start the process of getting her certified as a therapy animal.

The library event was one of the first he and Cookie were able to attend, and Higgins said it was a positive experience for the students.

“Thinking back, during my finals weeks years ago, I would’ve loved to have gone off in a corner and cuddled with a dog,” he said.

Now, Higgins plans to start bringing Cookie to visit the psychiatric ward in Lakeview Hospital on an every-other-week basis.

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “I get to watch my dog be so eager to do what it is that she was really born to do. I’m looking forward to the years of experiences ahead.”

Last Updated: 4/13/21