Sammy the pug, Maxwell the German shepherd and Dory the terrier lab mix were on main campus to interact with students in an event put on by Lane First Experience on Mar. 12 in the Center Building. The group People and Animals Who Serve, or PAAWS, brought three teams of dogs and their handlers so students could get some puppy cuddles during the stress of quiet week.
Tammy Walters, a First Year Experience team member, estimated that between 50 and 100 students attended to pet the dogs and grab snacks or hot drinks. She said she loved seeing all the smiles on students.
PAAWS Oregon is a volunteer group that brings certified therapy dogs to different community organizations for life enhancement, according to their website. The 20 dog and handler teams in the Eugene area are trained and certified through Project Canine.
Hana Belighl, an LCC student in the sonography program, enjoyed petting Maxwell the German shepherd. Maxwell reminded Belighl of Haba, her German shepherd back in Libya. She lived out in the country, far from neighbors, and appreciated the companionship and protectiveness Haba provided. Haba once pulled Belighl’s son away from a busy road.
Ina Dunlap, Sammy the pug’s owner, was one of the founding board members of PAAWS. Her mother had been recovering from surgery when Dunlap brought two of her pugs to visit. Their normally exuberant nature turned to calm in her mother’s presence, and one dog laid under each hand.
“They just laid and cuddled her, and made a big difference for her. To me, seeing what they could do, seeing the difference they could make with the situation of her recovering from surgery was just an exceptional thing,” Dunlap said. “When I came back, I found a training.”
Barbara Berkley, president of the PAAWS Board of Directors, watched her dog Dory roll on her back and ask for belly rubs from students. Their eight years of PAAWS work have been full of memories. Berkely has watched kids in the juvenile detention center light up in the presence of Dory and be more receptive to staff afterwards. The team visits Emerald Valley Assisted Living monthly and participates in Reading Education Assistance Dogs, a program that helps students practice reading to dogs.
“It’s good for her, it’s good for people to come and visit, it’s good for the volunteers,” Berkley said.
Dunlap said that Sammy loves people and being the center of attention. The pug’s wide smile and wiggling curly tail as he walked around the small circle of LCC students led to students petting him, grinning, hugging him and taking photos. Dunlap reflected warmly on people responding to Sammy.
“I’ve seen people in tears, I’ve seen him kiss away the tears, and I’ve seen a bit of a smile before we’re done,” Dunlap said. “It’s amazing to see what a little bit of time interacting with the dog can do.”