“Puppy Playtime,” Stressed Students, and ‘Parental Pride’

Students crowded into a space, standing room only, crowded-crowded-crowded.

Rock concert tickets?
Release of a highly anticipated movie?
Sale on the season’s most popular video game?
Giveaway of a semester’s tuition?

Nope – a chance for college students at the school where I work to spend a little time on the Saturday before final exam week petting a dog.

It manages to be sweet and sad at the same time…students so lonely and stressed out that they will line up, crowd in, and stand around on a hard floor in hallways outside the Counseling center hoping to get to touch a dog as it walks by. 

 This is the second time I’ve volunteered with Counseling and Wellness services “Puppy Playtime” on the campus where I work. This is an annual event that takes place during the fall semester as students take a brief break from cramming for final exams.

With a ratio of at least a dozen students per dog at times this is how Lil, Jenny, and I spent two hours today. There were other dogs there also but I must say, few worked the room as thoroughly or fairly as these girls. (Okay, I’m biased. There was a little dog who was very friendly to everyone, and a Vizsla who wagged his stub as she approached each person. Some dogs were more interested in people with toys; Lil mugged one young man who kept feeding her bites of cookie.)

The young man in the above picture for example is bending over petting Jenny as she walks by. Jenny did a magnificent job of walking back and forth amongst all the students present. She made sure everyone got a chance to say hello and worked the room for nearly two hours straight.

She also took the time to give some special attention to people once things settled down a bit and students started to find seats on the floor.

Now for some viewers, the above picture might seem very ordinary – a dog being pet by some friendly people. I look at this picture though and feel happy…yes, even a little pride.

When Jenny and I met about four years ago she was not only afraid of strangers but pathologically afraid of men. She would even hide behind me if she was feeling intimidated by someone entering a room. She would duck when someone reached out to pet her, afraid that she would get hit in the head. She’d cower or jump out of the way if the person reaching out was a male.

A parade of puppies including our friend, Black Lab Jazz, and a rescued Beagle mix

Now can you appreciate how brave and amazing she was today – she’s worked long and hard to get to this point but I thought she did great.

And then there was Lil. This was her first big outing and she was just so awesome (okay, probably a little
‘parent pride’ there.) She not only worked the room like a champ but allowed herself to be surrounded, hugged, and gang-pet by about half a dozen students at once while she laid down, stretched out and let them all pet her. She smiled, wagged, and was patient and gentle the whole time. (Full disclosure – she may have had an accident too – I helped clean up just in case.)

There was a particular group of students who were so taken with Lil they begged me to loan  her to them for an hour to visit the dorm hallway where they lived. Since I know and work with the head of student housing, and since I know this is a big no-no, I told them that first they would have to get his okay… then we’d talk about visitation.  Meanwhile, another young man tried to negotiate “just in the off chance you someday decide you have to sell her….” I explained I couldn’t really part with my pup but that when he was ready to have his own dog I’d be glad to help hook him up :-)

With so many students and most dogs, like Lil and Jenny walking around without their people being apparent, students didn’t always know the dog’s names and gave them impromptu nick-names. As the only Collie, Jenny was of course dubbed “Lassie.”  Lil was “Mack” to a group that offered to take her home and held an elevator door open for her in case she “accidentally” followed them in. Okay, one tried actually calling her, “Come on Mack, come home with us!” but another student sitting on the floor near the elevator had made herself self appointed dog wrangler and would stick her arm up like a toll both gate anytime a dog offered to run onto the elevator. She grabbed Lil’s collar protectively when the group offered to take “Mack” home with them.

The smaller dogs found the mainly standing crowd a little more overwhelming and most of them went home with owners before the few hours were over.   Lil made it to the last fifteen minutes. Then she came over to me and politely offered to put her head into her Gentle Leader head harness.

That’s when we excused ourselves after wishing the remaining students good luck on their final exams. They yelled thank you to us for coming to visit them. We were happy to do so.

While there was a core group of students who were there for the whole time, most students spent just a little while, trying to make room for new students once they’d had their own chance to spend a few minutes petting a dog. At times the elevator seemed like a clown car, opening up and spewing out what seemed to be an endless stream of students. In total, over several hundred students passed through, and each of them took at least one pet of Lab and Collie before they left. While there were other social dogs there, our girls outdid themselves, learning to recognize the “ding” of the elevator and usually greeting each new group of students as they exited the elevator. And I don’t think any dog present personally greeted more people than our Jenny. How cool is that!

Before I left one student instructed me to tell my boss, the Vice President, that puppy playtime is “necessary.” Based on the crowd that comes out each time this event is held, I think we can all agree it is at least very, very desirable.

We all enjoy the company of our canine companions and events like this remind me, not only am I fortunate but there are many other people who would like the opportunity to visit with my girls. If you have the opportunity and your canine is willing, make sure you take advantage of opportunities to share your time when and where you can. Not everyone who loves dogs is fortunate enough to live with one.

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