Exam Cram partners with West Michigan Therapy Dogs

GVL / Sara Carte
Grand Valley students play with therapy puppies to relieve stress from finals week in the Kirkhof building on Dec. 7.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Grand Valley students play with therapy puppies to relieve stress from finals week in the Kirkhof building on Dec. 7.

Hannah Lentz

College students disagree on a lot of things. From personal viewpoints to study method preferences, there is a lot of room for discontent. However, one thing most students agree on is the idea that puppies can help them get through a stressful week.

During exam week, Grand Valley State University monopolizes on this idea. Every year, the Mary Idema Pew Library’s “Exam Cram” team partners with the university Counseling Center and West Michigan Therapy Dogs to bring trained therapy dogs to campus.

These dogs and their handlers work with community health, education and rehabilitative services to help with emotional, physical and psychological support through the human-animal healing connection.

“Students love when these dogs come to campus,” said user experience librarian Kristin Meyer. “There is never a time where the visiting dogs are not surrounded by students. It’s a great way to relax throughout all the studying that is done during the week.”

The West Michigan Therapy Dogs is a nonprofit organization made up entirely of volunteers. Members determine if they are able to volunteer at a program based upon interest levels, the location of the program, available time and if the temperament and training of their dog is compatible to the program.

Heather Van Wormer, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at GVSU is the president of West Michigan Therapy Dogs. She helps work with the Exam Cram team to ensure that the therapy dogs have an opportunity to visit campus and help during exam week.

Though these animals are eagerly anticipated by the majority of the GVSU population, the Exam Cram team does recognize that some community members may be weary of dogs or have an allergy that prevents them from being in close proximity to the dogs. Therefore, each dog and their handler is positioned so that they are in clearly marked areas away from entrances.

“We make sure that we do not cause problems for students by thinking ahead,” Meyer said. “We understand some students cannot be around the therapy dogs and we think about that when we position where the dogs are located.”

One thing she wanted to make clear was that therapy dogs are not a form of professional counseling. While they may allow for relief during a busy week, they are not to be used in place of official counseling services.

“Bringing dogs on campus provides for a short-term breather, not a long-term solution,” Meyer said.

As one of the most anticipated Exam Cram events, the team looks forward to working with the West Michigan Therapy dogs every year, Meyer said.

“What a great partnership we have,” Meyer said. “It’s worth all the planning once you see students enjoying a service that you were able to bring them, and it doesn’t hurt to have the cute dogs around either.”