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Guinevere goes to work: Therapy dog settles nerves, brings smiles to campus

Thursday is Guinevere’s favorite day of the week. It’s the day she goes to work at East Tennessee State University’s Counseling Center alongside her owner, staff counselor and Thrive program coordinator Beth Evelyn Barber.

Guinevere doesn’t waste any time checking email or drinking coffee. Instead, she gets right to work greeting visitors in the lobby of the counseling center during her “open office hour.”

“The students absolutely love her. She can help reduce anxiety and elevate the mood of people dealing with homesickness or depression,” Barber said.

Therapy dogs have become popular on college campuses and Barber thought having one at the ETSU Counseling Center would benefit the campus community. She began researching various dog breeds and chose a standard poodle because they are hypoallergenic. Affectionately referred to as “Guinny,” she has soft, curly, dark brown fur and a calm demeanor that suggests she’s much older than

Becoming a certified therapy dog required hours of training and socializing. At six months old, Guinevere started puppy classes and advanced quickly, learning how to resist the canine urge to sniff out food crumbs and control how she responds to loud noises. There’s one aspect of the training that can’t be taught, as therapy dogs are typically empathetic and compassionate by nature. Guinevere is relaxed, yet engaging as she explores new people through smell.

She and Barber took an exam together, leading to her certification from Therapy Dog International. Trainers test the temperament and obedience of therapy dogs, while service dogs and companion animals are often trained to assist their owners with specific tasks. Guinevere began working at the counseling center in 2017 and her certification allows her to visit places like nursing homes, hospitals and schools.

 “She is highly attuned to people and is constantly scanning to see who is excited to see her,” Barber said.  “When she goes to the dog park, she visits with people more than she does the other dogs.”

After Guinevere’s open office hour, she attends the Transgender Support Group where she calms nerves and interacts with each person by nuzzling her nose forward in hopes of a head rub. Afterward, it’s time for lunch. Guinevere proudly strides across campus, causing students to put away their phones and gravitate toward her undeniable

“Everyone wants to pet and talk to her. I utilize her as a link to the students,” Barber said. “If I’m walking across campus, no one is going ask who I am, but they will stop and ask about the dog. It’s an opportunity to tell them about the resources we have available in the counseling center. She’s a great attention getter.”

After the mid-day walk through campus, Guinevere returns to her office in the afternoon to interact with Barber’s clients.

“Within the first 10 minutes, she usually has her face in their lap, and you can absolutely see students who come in anxious or nervous suddenly smiling and relaxed. You can tell a sense of calm comes over them,” Barber said.

Through the process of training Guinevere, Barber has developed a passion for training therapy dogs and is currently working with Maggie, her year-old standard poodle, who she hopes will also join her at the ETSU Counseling

Guinevere’s popularity continues to grow. She has been invited to visit students during final exams to soothe nervous jitters. More students are recognizing Barber on campus and immediately want to know the whereabouts of her four-legged companion.

“Guinevere provides more one-on-one human communication,” Barber said. “She gives a sense of belonging and a connection, especially for those who may be far from home. She brings smiles to people who might feel isolated and gives them a boost of energy and excitement for their day.”

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