When asked why Dan Boyd became a therapy dog handler, he simply pointed to his Bernese mountain dog, Bennett, and laughed. Dogs like Bennett have become a key part of the Counseling Center at Taylor University.
In the 2021 fall semester, three dogs visit campus separately on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the past, dogs like Jed and Zuko have serviced the emotional needs of students. The program at Taylor University has run for five years and now it welcomes new handlers with the new academic year.
Boyd graduated from Taylor University in 1969. He spent over four decades working as a racing photographer. Boyd then quit his job in 2013.
A year and a half passed before God placed a new opportunity in front of him waddling along on four paws.
“This guy just fell right into my lap,” Boyd said in reference to his dog Bennett. “God made him to be a therapy dog.”
Bennett was trained through the American Kennel Club and graduated his class early for therapy dog certification. The role of a therapy dog is to work as a highly trained animal to help large numbers of people de-stress and increase their emotional health.
Boyd has worked through Therapy Dogs International for the past four and a half years. He and Bennet have served the healthcare workers at Ball Memorial Hospital. They have also gone to elementary schools, summer schools in Muncie and Yorktown and even a retirement home for a short time.
Taylor University was added to the list of locations where they serve their community. Boyd first started with his Bernese mountain dog Bennett and now his Leonberger, Bayley, who finished his training and arrived on campus to work for the first time this September.
Another Bernese mountain dog, Liesl, also comes to campus with her handler Cindy Callison (‘89). Callison currently works as an elementary school teacher.
She first became interested in becoming a therapy dog handler when she watched other therapy dogs like Bennett help those around her, especially the students at her school. When Callison noticed Liesl’s good-natured temperament she started on the road to becoming a therapy dog handler.
Liesl was certified as a therapy dog in 2019 and started serving Taylor students in 2021. Now both are on staff at Salamonie School where Leisl assists in the classroom twice a week and visits Taylor University on Mondays.
When on campus, Liesl roams around the Student Center to greet those around the Jumping Bean, tail wagging.
“She gets very offended when people don’t say hello to her,” Callison said.
For her, bringing Leisl to Taylor University and to her classroom is just another way for her to serve others around her.
Becoming a handler opened new opportunities for Callison. She started sewing bandanas for Leisl and even started her own business called Hound Hankies because of her. Bennett and Leisl can be seen sporting their purple TU handkerchiefs around campus.
Over the fall, Liesl had four puppies and they also made their appearance on campus. This helped both help students to de-stress and to socialize the new litter.
For the Taylor University Counseling Center, the therapy dogs have fulfilled their role in helping students.
“We found that students really relate well to the dogs and remind them of home,” said administrative assistant Lori Heath who arranges the therapy dog visits.
This attitude is echoed in the students who regularly go see the therapy dogs.
“Since I miss my dog at home, it’s nice seeing dogs on campus,” said freshman Katelyn Creek.
The activity also gives students time to de-stress and take a moment away from academics.
“It’s a nice break in my day from studying,” said freshman Jackie Norris.
Smiles follow the large dogs whenever they walk from table to table in the Student Center to greet new people for around an hour and a half at each visit.
The animals working three times a week at the LaRita Boren Student Center seem to absorb the emotions from the people who stop by, as noticed by Heath. Each time, the dogs leave worn out from greeting eager students.
Slobbery smiles from Taylor University’s four-legged friends brighten the lives of those they greet. The blessings students have enjoyed don’t just fall on them, but also handlers like Boyd and Callison.
Catch the therapy dogs on Monday nights from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. if you need a moment to de-stress after or between classes, as a study break or even just to say hello and pet some dogs.