“Bernese mountain dog puppy terrorist,” owner Dan Boyd said when describing Ben, his new therapy dog-in-training.
Despite Boyd’s comical description, students should not overlook Ben’s loveable, energetic characteristics.
Ben is the sixth therapy dog to serve at Taylor University, and the seven-month-old Bernese mountain dog still has much to learn about his new role.
Boyd got Ben on June 24 from an Amish family that breeds Bernese mountain dogs in New Haven, Indiana. Out of the three puppies Boyd met, Ben was the one that caught his attention.
“The three of them were under the car, and in a couple of minutes, Ben came out,” Boyd said. “He came over to me. The others stayed under the car.”
Prior to obtaining Ben, Boyd had two therapy dogs: Bailey, a Leonberger and Bennett, a Bernese mountain dog.
Bennett passed away on June 20 after serving as a therapy dog for five and a half years. Bailey, however, continues to serve alongside Ben, who was named after Boyd’s late dog.
“You know, God has blessed me with these two guys – and they both have personalities,” Boyd said. “They're people-loving personalities.”
Ben currently weighs 92 pounds and Boyd said he expects that when fully grown, Ben will weigh at least 120 pounds.
It takes puppies like Ben approximately a year and a half before they can start maturing and are ready for the certification process.
Owner Cindy Callison has two other therapy dogs, Liesel and Cedar, that visit campus weekly.
“They just get maybe a little mellow or just with age, a little less, you know, puppy enthusiasm in life,” Callison said.
For therapy dogs to be approved to work in hospitals like IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, they are required to be certified via the appropriate training.
Luckily for Ben’s budding career, however, Taylor University’s counseling center does not require its therapy dogs to be certified.
Assistant to Campus Ministries Lori Heath said that prospective therapy dogs need to spend time with counseling center staff to observe if they are a good fit for Taylor.
“The therapy dogs add another dimension to the services that we can help provide here at Taylor,” Heath said. “I think it's not only therapeutically helpful for a lot of students, but it also reminds them of home.”
Although Ben is still working through his puppy stage of life, Boyd is helping him gain experiences that are not necessary for certification but nevertheless important.
Thanks to his Taylor visits, Ben can learn how to better maneuver stairs and become more acquainted with the elevator.
Besides working with those experiences, Ben also has had the opportunity to embrace the most important aspect of his learning process: meeting new people.
“He likes to get in front of you and then he sits on your feet,” Boyd said. “Oh, my goodness, when he sits on your feet, he will look up at you and you're supposed to pet him.”
Boyd says he hopes to certify Ben after an Advanced Canine class next summer where afterward, he will be put in therapy dog training in the Spring.
For now, Ben is learning to navigate his own hyper personality and easily spooked attitude.
“They're God's creatures, and he's created them with a personality and temperament,” Boyd said.
Students can meet and spend time with Ben in the LaRita Boren Campus Center on Fridays from 2:30—3:30 p.m.