Therapy dog relaxes students at Northeastern University Police Department event

On a recent morning at Snell Quad, many Northeastern students were needing to relax. They ran into a small black Moyen poodle that was seeking to earn her therapy license. Everyone got along beautifully. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“Free coffee! Lemonade! Iced tea! Hot chocolate!”

Officer Anika Crutchfield of the Northeastern University Police Department was standing near a canopy in the Snell Quad. Beneath the canopy was a table, and it should not be difficult to guess what was loaded upon it: Large dispensers of iced coffee, iced tea, hot chocolate, and lemonade.

On this recent morning, less attention than normal was being paid to the free drinks. The Northeastern students, faculty, and staff passing through appeared to be more fascinated by the 10-month-old dog that had been brought along by Andrea Gormley, who is Crutchfield’s sister.

The dog’s name was Obi-Wan (Obi for short). She was a black Moyen poodle, she was adorably gentle, and a small crowd was gathered around her.

“She’s here to make you happy, and make you feel comforted, and put a smile on your face,” said Gormley, who was cradling Obi as the students petted and cooed to the dog as if she were a baby.

Tripti Rijhwani, a graduate student in information systems, said she was afraid of dogs. And yet she was petting Obi anyway, albeit with her arm fully extended.

“It’s just that they bark,” Rijhwani said of dogs in general. “She doesn’t bark.”

Obi was being trained to be a therapy dog. One reason she was at this event was because she needed to put in hours with the public in pursuit of her therapy license. It turned out that barking was, in fact, an issue for her.

“She will fail the test if she barks,” Gormley said. “She has picked up barking from my other dog. So now, if she gets excited to see me, she will bark.”

Staff Sgt. John Farrell, who heads the crime prevention and community engagement unit at the Northeastern police department, thought Obi’s presence at this event would be good for the students, based on the stresses that come with living away from home, managing the pressures of their academic schedules, and other issues.

“A lot of them have so much of a workload,” Crutchfield said. “If they stop and just take that one time to pet the dog and relax, it calms them. And when it’s a professionally trained and certified emotional support dog, it knows how to sense your mood and cuddle with you a little bit more.”

Gormley, a nurse, tends to visit patients in their homes, and she also raises foster children. She has seen the difference that Obi makes.

“She trains with the children—they pick her up, they play with her, and she just relaxes them,” Gormley said. “I’m hoping that in the next couple months, she can pass her certification test so that we can start going into hospitals.”

Meghana Bantwal, a first-year biotechnology graduate student, was reminded of her own dog in Dubai.

“My life is feeling good now,” Bantwal said.

“That’s what she’s here for,” Gormley replied.

Miranda Dias, a fifth-year student majoring in business administration, agreed with the theory of therapy dogs.

“I do feel a bit better,” said Dias, laughing. “I have a presentation in about an hour, and I’m kind of freaking about that. But I saw this dog and I was like, hello! I forgot completely I had a presentation.”

The monthly event, called “Coffee and Tea with NU P.D.,” will be back at Snell Quad soon. If you have a question of any kind for the campus police, then Farrell, Crutchfield, or officer Rachel Jolliffe will be able to answer it. By then, Obi may be closer to earning her license.

Or maybe not.

At the end of the event, as the empty vats were being removed from the table, a small bark rang out. No one is immune from stress.

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