Wildpups bring happiness on campus during first visit of winter semester

Jackie Phillips

The NMU Wildpups visited the Lydia M. Olson library on Monday, Jan. 30 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. Throughout each semester, the Wildpups visit the library for all students, faculty and staff to spend time with. 

According to their website, the Wildpups are an embedded Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) program that takes place at NMU. The program consists of a group of volunteers and their dogs who visit the school to benefit the mental wellbeing of those on campus. 

Their goal is to find a way to bring happiness to the campus, as well as to relieve stress and anxiety, said assistant professor at the school of nursing Michelle Andriacchi. 

“We want to somehow help the campus, especially after the pandemic,” Andriacchi said. 

The team behind the Wildpups conducted research in collaboration with NMU nursing students that shows animal therapy relieves stress and anxiety and boosts moods. According to the PAWS for People organization, pet therapy helps to increase the oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin in the body while decreasing cortisol. 

There are a variety of studies supporting the benefits of animal therapy, however, the Wildpups focus on the effects of animal therapy on a college campus. While the team normally conducts their research at each event, Monday was the first time without research being conducted. 

To set up the events, the team first reaches out to the registrar to see when students will be on campus. The team usually targets different times for each event, knowing that students’ schedules vary, including having day classes and night classes. 

After a time is set, the team sits down with the handlers of each Wildpup and sees who will be available for each event. The Wildpups handler team are all volunteers – some from the community and some who are faculty or staff. 

At each event there is a range of seven to 15 dogs. Occasionally, Butterscotch the cat makes an appearance, and in the past a miniature horse has been included as part of the team as well. The team is looking to expand and grow their program by including other featured animals like Butterscotch and the miniature horse. 

The Wildpup events also help students who may have animals at home that they miss, Andriacchi said. 

“I went because I have a dog at home who is my best friend,” junior Cass McGregor said. “He always makes me feel better when I’m stressed, so here it’s nice to see a furry little friend.” 

Faculty and staff are encouraged to come to the Wildpups events, as well as become volunteers with their dogs, Andriacchi said. 

“We’re trying to get people out of their offices, it’s hard though,” Andriacchi said. “If there’s any faculty interested in becoming Wildpups with their dogs they can reach out to me.” 

Each event is free, and participants can drop in whenever they have time. Additional Wildpups events will take place throughout the semester, including this month on Feb. 16 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and Feb. 27 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. in the Olson library.