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Business Schools

Loaner Puppies: The Latest Elite College Perk


Harvard Medical School therapy dog Cooper

Courtesy Harvard Medical School/Countway Library

Harvard Medical School therapy dog Cooper

At a certain type of college, students have come to expect coddling. Perks that enhance campus life, such as maid servicegyms with lazy rivers, rock-climbing walls, and university-provided laptops have been the subject of many a listicle. Now discerning applicants to top-ranked universities might well ask: How’s the puppy access?

Schools including Harvard and Yale have begun to house therapy dogs—calm canines traditionally used to comfort elderly or sick people in institutions—giving a cuddly reprieve to some of the country’s most stressed-out students. Harvard Medical School’s library has a Shih Tzu named Cooper, available for playtime with students two days a week. Cooper has his own reservation page on Harvard Library’s website. “He enjoys fetching his squeaky toys and stuffed animals, as well as a good game of tug. Should you have a good cry or even feign a whimper near Coop, you are guaranteed to get lots of kisses,” according to his owner’s description.

Yale University brought in a therapy dog named Finn to hang out with students at its medical school this year, joining the law school’s dog, Monty, who’s been on campus since 2011.

Monty, a certified therapy dog who is hypoallergenic, was so popular that Yale students sat on wait lists for half-hour sessions to play with him, wrote librarians Julian Aiken and Femi Cadmus in a 2011 report. Dog ownership requires effort, but the work pays off in loyalty to the library: “While [the dog therapy program] exacts a substantial investment of time and resources, if carefully planned out it yields excellent results in terms of solidifying relationships with one most important library patron base—students,” they wrote.

Veterinary medicine colleges at Tufts University and Virginia Tech have also started dog therapy programs to help people on and off campus. Kent State University created a pet therapy program several years ago to give lonely freshmen a taste of home. And campuses across the country have organized events with local animal shelters or dog therapy groups to bring puppies to campus when they’re most needed—during exam weeks. The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School sent puppies to soothe its MBAs during midterms last year.

While pet therapy has long been common in nursing homes and hospitals, gifting college students with puppy time is “a fairly new concept, but one that has been well received,” wrote two University of Connecticut staff members in the research journal College & Undergraduate Libraries.

“College students face many of the same issues as the elderly, such as living away from home, often leaving pets behind and adjusting to an impersonal institution,” they wrote. “Studies have shown that interacting with an unknown dog reduced blood pressure, lowered anxiety, and reduced self-reported depression among college students.”

Virginia Tech Helping PAWS visiting Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium to provide a pet therapy study break for student athletesCourtesy Dave Knachel/Virginia TechVirginia Tech Helping PAWS visiting Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium to provide a pet therapy study break for student athletes

Weinberg is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering business schools.

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