Wildpups therapy dogs return to campus


courtesy of Michelle Andriacchi

Michelle Andriacchi, professor of nursing, and her Siberian Husky, Fonzie, are part of the Wildpups therapy dogs team. All the dogs in the Wildpups program are trained therapy dogs owned by professors on campus who bring their dogs in for students to pet.

Sophia Huhta, contributing writer

Sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all, rather, it is the comfort of wet noses and sloppy kisses.

NMU School of Nursing will bring therapy dogs to Lydia M. Olson Library Thursday, Sept. 16 to offer animal-assisted therapy as a way to experience a decrease in stress and anxiety in students, faculty and staff, said Michelle Andriacchi, a professor of nursing in the School of Nursing. 

“There’s been so much interest,” Andriacchi said. “We were at Fall Fest and students were so excited.”

In the past—except for COVID-19 last year—Northern has brought dogs onto campus during finals week to assist students to get through the stressful time, Andriacchi said.

Anyone coming to visit the dogs is able to pet and visit the dogs, as well as chat with anyone else at the event.

The dogs, Wildpups, are six professor-owned dogs that were trained to be therapy dogs. The professors worked with Beyond the Fence, a dog training facility in Marquette. The Wildpups trained with their owners all summer before taking a test, which is a 30-45 minutes test with the dog and owner. Trainers test the dogs’ reaction to different scenarios, such as crowds of people, loud environments, different objects (walkers, crutches, wheelchairs) and how the dogs react to yelling and rough petting, said Andriacchi.

“[It’s] a pretty rigorous test to become a therapy dog,” Andriacchi said. 

The program is funded by A College of Health Sciences and Professional Studies internal grant and had to get approved by the president of the college. NMU Public Safety and Risk Management helped put protocols in place for the program and events at Northern, said Andriacchi.

“Everyone is super supportive,” Andriacchi said. “Honestly, that has made it really easy.”

The program will host seven different events this semester. The dogs work just two hours a day. In between the events, the dogs may do other therapy-related events, such as requests to visit individual classrooms, said Andriacchi.

The six professors are all from the School of Nursing. Andriacchi and Professor Dominic Andriacchi own Fonzie, a Siberian Husky, and Seneca, a German Shepherd. Anne Stein owns Ramsey, an Australian shepherd, and Professor Casey Hopper owns Boris, an English mastiff. Professor Katie Taylor’s dog is Sadie, a golden retriever, while Rachel Nye’s dog is Molly, a goldendoodle. All dogs went through the same program to become AAT trained.

“It’s hard working full time as a professor to meet the needs,” Andriacchi said. “We’re still going to try to do that the best we can.”

The AAT will do a voluntary stress study. Volunteer students from the nursing program will take vitals and administer a survey during the Wildpups therapy sessions, Andriachhi said. 

 “We’re hoping that we can write up some articles and publish this [study],” Andriacchi said.

There will be laptops available to students who are interested in being part of the study, as well as a QR code if students want to use their phone to answer questions, said junior nursing student Emily Long.

“I think we will have students who are calmer, more present, more emotionally put together,” Long said.

Last year, two of the professors brought their dogs into one of the nursing classes, as a way of relaxing the students, Long said.

“It’s fun. It’s not, ‘come here and tell us your feelings and talk about it.’ It’s, ‘come here, see dogs, pet dogs,’” Long said.

The first event takes place in the library from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16. The event is free and open to all students, staff and faculty. The voluntary study will take five minutes before and after, Andriachhi said.

“I hope we sustain this program forever,” Andriacchi said. “That our program just keeps growing.”

Additional information about the events are on The Hub, or by contacting [email protected].