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updated: 12/27/2012 7:37 AM

Students use therapy dogs during finals

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  • Heartland Community College student Ari Lipp pets Abby, a therapy dog in in Normal.

      Heartland Community College student Ari Lipp pets Abby, a therapy dog in in Normal.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS

 
Associated Press

NORMAL -- Final exam week is a stressful time for students at Heartland Community College.

Judging by the attention given to Abby the therapy dog, it can be stressful for professors, too.

When Faye Freeman-Smith, Heartland's director of student counseling, considered a therapy dog for students, math professor Deb Wentzel said she had the right one.

Abby, which Wentzel describes as "a Labrador mix," went through training last year and became a certified therapy dog. During finals week, she visited a lounge area near the library in the Student Commons Building for four, one-hour sessions.

Abby clearly enjoyed the petting and belly rubs as much as students enjoyed the break from studying. And those who stopped got a lesson in perseverance as well as stress management.

The first thing you notice about Abby is her welcoming face and wagging tail. Then you notice she has only three legs.

Wentzel doesn't know how Abby lost one of her rear legs; neither does the person who initially got Abby as a "rescue" dog.

The dog had been living in a drug house, where she was kept in a closet and practically starved, Wentzel said.

Wentzel has had Abby about five years. Veterinarians estimate Abby is about 9.

A year and a half ago, Abby's remaining back leg gave out because of arthritis. However, through chiropractic care, water therapy and glucosamine shots, Abby regained strength and mobility, Wentzel said.

Abby has done her own "rescuing" since her own rescue, visiting patients in OSF St. Joseph Medical Center's Karing Partners program and children in the Tails for Tales program at Bloomington Public Library. She also donates blood for other dogs.

Freeman-Smith is thinking of having a therapy dog in the counseling office to provide a welcoming atmosphere. The office opened in January.

"The counseling center came out of concerns from faculty and staff that we needed to address personal concerns that are barriers to academic success," Freeman-Smith said.

The center focuses on mental health and wellness, trying to "debunk the stigma of coming in for counseling," she said

During Abby's visit, printed materials were available on stress relief, including a "stress checklist inventory" to help students evaluate their stress level.

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