Visitors entering Martin Hall, home to West Virginia University’s (WVU) Reed College of Media, are greeted at the door by the sound of busy students typing articles, professors lecturing about the best advertising techniques and the clicking of camera lenses.

These are expected sounds for any media college, but then a different sound joins the others: the graceful yet thunderous prancing of paws down the hallways. The paws belong to the Reed College of Media’s therapy dog, Omega. Omega is a gentle giant with a gray, curly coat. She greets guests, students and staff with her sweet disposition and wagging tale, and her deep brown eyes peer into each person, looking to soothe any anxiety that might be lurking inside.

The idea of having a therapy dog at the college came about in the spring of 2014. The associate dean at the time considered the idea after several other colleges at WVU started using therapy dogs.

A growing number of colleges across the country are offering pet therapy by bringing registered therapy dogs to students who need a reprieve from the pressures of school or who are suffering from homesickness. The health benefits of pet ownership are undeniable. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, petting a dog can help lower blood pressure, ease depression and lower stress. This research has led to many schools, hospitals, nursing homes and even prisons embracing pet therapy for treatment and rehabilitation purposes. Experts say dogs can sense when humans are experiencing stress or fear based on a distinct odor that occurs in conjunction with adrenaline.

Dr. Diana Martinelli, the associate dean, says the process was relatively quick after the college pursued the idea. Hearts of Gold, an organization that trains service dogs, and Reed College of Media staff met to figure out what breed of dog would best suit the school. Through a matchmaking process, Omega was paired with the college.



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However, before she was chosen, Omega had to be trained. Originally intended to be a service dog, Omega had a few setbacks that made her better suited as a therapy dog—namely her fear of loud noises and her friendly demeanor.

While Omega underwent training, so did Martinelli, who trained to become her handler. Martinelli trained with several dogs, never knowing who she would be paired with at the end of the process. Finally, like the conclusion of a great love story, the two were united at last. Ever since, they have spent every day together, and both keep very busy.

Every morning Omega wakes up to the ringing of Martinelli’s alarm clock, and the two get out of bed to begin their day. Omega’s day begins with a prance around the yard while Martinelli gets ready for work. Then Omega comes in and gets dressed; that is, she puts on her vest.

The pair then head to Martin Hall to Martinelli’s office on the second floor. Omega greets the students across the hall and in the video editing room. “She senses the anxiety and makes her rounds,” says Martinelli.

In the afternoon, Omega goes to the advising office located on the first floor, where she holds her office hours from two to three.

“She does have a very busy social calendar,” says Martinelli. Omega always makes time for those who need a little lift in their spirits. According to Martinelli, Omega has regular visitors who always make a point to stop by during this time. Some students and staff even take her for a walk.

Sometimes Omega attends meetings with Martinelli, and she also attends community events upon invitation. At the end of the day, Omega and Martinelli commute back home for the evening, where Omega steps out of her vest and unwinds. She works hard and plays hard, and she gets very excited to play with the neighbor’s dog, Tyson, after a hard day’s work.

“Omega really is the family dog,” says Martinelli. In a small college like the Reed College of Media, students and staff feel like a family. Omega fits right in, making school and work feel a little less stressful.

Freshman journalism and English student Patrick Orsagos can attest to Omega’s comforting powers. “Whenever I am stressed out, seeing her strut down the halls of Martin does make me extremely happy,” he says.


Previously published on www.wvexecutive.com

About the Author

Anna Saab was born and raised in Morgantown, WV. She is a journalism student at West Virginia University (WVU), and she hopes to study at the WVU College of Law. Saab is the recipient of the Gruine Robinson RC Media Scholarship, won first place of the editorial division of WVU’s High School Journalism Competition in 2016 and is a spring 2017 intern for New South Media. She also works as a barista at a gelato and coffee shop, Tutto Gelato, in Morgantown.



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