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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

Therapy Dog Eases Welcome Week Nerves

By Mason Edwards, Features Editor for the University Echo

Campbell Carter, a freshman at UTC, pets Lizzie while she posts to her story. Tuesday, August 22, 2023. Alexis McMurtry, Assistant Photo Editor

Peering through the library window, eager students pointed and cheered as a small dog trotted towards the library doors. Whispering amongst themselves, a few guessed correctly: the therapy dog had arrived.


An adorable mix of Beagle, Chow-Chow, American Staffordshire Terrier and a few other breeds, ten-year-old Lizzie couldn’t help but share their excitement.


On Tuesday, Aug. 22, Lizzie and her owner entered a small study nook full of chairs and couches. Despite ample seating, everyone opted to meet her on the floor, remaining as close as possible. Over the next 35 minutes, Lizzie’s love wiped away the stresses of over 100 students.


“She’s so cute,” someone in the group exclaimed; another responded, “I love her freckles!”


Lizzie meandered through the crowd, rolling over on her back and letting people rub her belly. While most hands combed down her silky fur, Lizzie licked the fingers of those who couldn’t reach her back. At one point, she rested her paw on a student’s hand.


“You are so cute,” freshman Emily Erdley reacted in the crowd. “I’m going to start crying.”

Leaving the circle, Lauren Walicki took a deep breath before saying, “wow, I needed that.”


Lizzie retreated to her pink mat in the center of the crowd, which her owner’s mother had embroidered with her name. Occasionally sipping from a shiny water bowl, she didn’t mind having four or five people petting her at the same time.


By Lizzie’s visit two days into the semester, students had endured new classes, residences and responsibilities, with more challenges still to come. As a graphic design major, sophomore Sarah Ong’s semester didn’t give her a relaxed, introductory syllabus week.


“The majority of stuff I’m doing is big projects, and we’re already getting started with that,” Ong explained. “Honestly, I was feeling kind of stressed, and I was just going to go back to my dorm to calm down.”


On her way, Ong noticed a sign advertising Lizzie. Given that she loves meeting new dogs on campus, she became one of the first students at the event.


“[Lizzie] seems like a very sweet old lady, I have a very special place in my heart for older dogs, and she just seems like a very gentle soul” Ong paused, spacing out her sentences. “I had a dog for thirteen years. He recently passed away…his name was Sammy.”


Freshman Olivia Mildenberger noticed just how similar Lizzie was to her dog back home, given that they were both mixes from smaller breeds.


“I miss my dog a lot, so seeing Lizzie was perfect; we went to her, we rubbed her belly, gave her head pats,” Mildenberger said, before adding. “I already miss Lizzie. I’m excited to see her again.”


Lizzie’s owner, Professor Laura Surles, teaches Walking for Fitness on UTC’s campus. Their journey together started seven years ago when she adopted Lizzie from the Atlanta Humane Society; her “Gotcha Day” is coming up on Sept. 4. Surles hopes that through sharing Lizzie, students will find an outlet for stress or heartache.


“The way that she will look at you, I feel like she looks through you and into your soul,” Surles explained how Lizzie is special. “She’s really calm. Just so many people can be petting her, enjoying her, and she’s not only unfazed but loves doing that.”


In addition to Surles volunteering her time and pet, UTC Library staff coordinate the event. According to Assessment and Outreach Librarian Chantelle Swaren, community volunteers come from the Human Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT) program, and they bring registered therapy dogs.


Swaren recalled that the library’s first visit began in December 2014. Eventually, they found the perfect time to host the event, which is now recurring throughout the semester.


“I think welcome week is a good time, because there’s a lot of anxiety for moving and starting classes, and it’s a great opportunity to meet other dog lovers,” Swaren said.


The UTC Library’s website recommends students with questions about UTC’s assessment or outreach programs contact Swaren at chantelle-swaren@utc.edu.

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