Concordia University is the first college in Wisconsin to help students get certified in animal-assisted therapy. Abby Foster and Morgan Withey are working on getting their master's degrees in occupational therapy, and they're tacking on the animal therapy certificate program.
"I know the impact the dogs can have, and I wanted to be able to use it in my future practices in OT," said Foster.
"Some of the experiences we've had just working around school is seeing people and improve their mood and help them to open up and talk with people and really form a better relationship," said Withey.
School of Health Clinic Coordinator Lois Harrison heads up the new animal-assisted therapy certificate program. It's an optional certification for students in occupational or physical therapy and speech language pathology programs at Concordia.
"Animal-assisted therapy is another way to do therapy and use a dog to reach the goals of therapy," said Lois Harrison.
Students observe Harrison at Portal in Grafton while she works with a client with intellectual developmental disability. Sage, a golden retriever, helps Katya Krivoshein meet her goals during therapy.
"We use Sage to practice appropriate touch and then that can translate to her developing stronger relationships with people," said Harrison.
The therapist said animal interactions have many health benefits such as lowering the perceptions of pain, heart rate and stress.
"Interactions with animals have physical, psychological, emotional benefits," said Harrison.
Students have to complete seven courses, in addition to spending time working with Sage.
"It's more than just doing visits with a pet dog. It's really a healthcare provider, a social care provider, using a dog to meet the goals," said Harrison.