Law School Therapy Dog Raises the Bar

May 25, 2011 | By Margo Ann Sullivan | Category: Entertainment | 1 comment
Tags: entertainment, working animals

Popular canine helps students cope with stress.

He’s coming back into library circulation by popular demand. Monty, Yale Law School’s pet therapy dog, will return “sometime in the fall” to the library, where harried students can reserve him for 30-minute sessions, according to Janet Conroy, director of public affairs.

Monty, an 11-year-old Jack Russell/border terrier mix, scored a hit with students when he arrived on campus in March. His story even made The New York Times and National Public Radio.

“He was The New York Times’ most e-mailed story,” said his owner, access services librarian Julian Aiken. So far, Aiken said, the hoopla has not gone to Monty’s head. In fact, the law school job is a cushy assignment for a little fellow that first went to work in an Oxfordshire, England stable.

“We got him in England from a horse farm,” he said. “He started life as a ratter, killing rats in a stable.” Little Monty himself wasn’t much bigger than a rat, Aiken remembered.

“He was a puppy, and I was walking him around,” Aiken said, when a group of children saw them and jeered Monty’s tiny size. “That’s not a dog; that’s a rat,” they said.

So, Aiken decided to name him General Montgomery, after Gen. Bernard Montgomery, World War II commander of the British 8th Army, the Desert Rats.

“He’s kind of grown into the name,” Aiken said. “Monty has a certain authority,” he said, similar to Gen. Montgomery’s demeanor.

Monty might have continued chasing rats, but he had to leave the horse farm when his owner left his Oxford job.

“We moved to an urban area,” Aiken said. Monty temporarily retired. Then Aiken read about therapy dogs and decided Monty should try a new career.

“I like the idea of working dogs,” he said. “He was a working dog. We had to come up with a new job for him.” At the time, Aiken did not know any other therapy dogs, but he had read about them.

Monty soon qualified to work in England as a therapy dog.

“I just liked the idea,” he said. “I liked the idea of Monty being able to assist people in a small way. He’s a very intelligent, responsive dog. He likes people. He’s very people-focused.”

Monty’s library visits started in England, Aiken said. He went to visit with children; and initially, Monty’s pet therapy escaped fanfare.

“With a therapy dog, there’s not a lot of excitement,” he said. “It’s not like a bomb-sniffing dog. They just hang out and get stroked,” he laughed, and Monty’s used to petting. “We have two small children at home, so he’s used to being handled a lot,” he said.

But the obscurity ended when Yale Law School launched a pet therapy trial on March 28. By then, Monty, was living in the U.S. and duly registered as a Delta Society therapy animal. Once word spread about his efforts at the prestigious Ivy League school, he became a media darling.

Monty came to the library for three days, used a private room away from the reading area and kept 20 appointments, Conroy said.

“Demand was high,” she said after Prof. S. Blair Kauffman sent students e-mail inviting them to “check out” Monty. Kauffman’s e-mail included a link that explained the pet therapy concept.

“It is well documented,” Kauffman wrote, “that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being.” He also explained in advance that Monty is hypoallergenic, but said the library staff would be sensitive if students objected to a dog inside the building.

Part of the pilot program’s purpose was to make sure pet therapy did not create any problems, Conroy said. “First and foremost,” she said, “we have an academic mission. This was sort of an extra service.”

“During the pilot session, 84 students visited,” Conroy said, and Monty squeezed them in because students who signed up for pet therapy brought their friends.

“Another 30 or so were on the waiting list,” she said. Kauffman asked for student response to help decide if the library should continue pet therapy as a regular service, say, during exams.

Aiken called the students’ reaction “incredibly positive” and said pet therapy received a better response than any other library innovation.

“He is coming back on a limited basis,” Conroy said; current plans call for a “time or two in the fall term and in the spring term.”

“It’s been interesting seeing all the interest in Monty because a lot of people have therapy dogs,” said Aiken, who confessed he was surprised by all the attention.

The library does not charge students for pet therapy, Conroy said.

But Monty does benefit, Aiken said.

“He’s a real working dog; it’s sort of in his nature,” he said. “He comes to work, and he meets people. He gets treats, part of the reward. Monty’s smart. He very quickly associated coming to work with meeting lots of people and getting lots of treats.”

Overall, Monty has kept his paws on the ground, and the adulation “has not gone too much to his head,” Aiken said. And if he ever does retire, a little Monty may be following.

“He does have a son,” Aiken said. Harold, a Jack Russell / border terrier and Chihuahua / Pomeranian mix, is just 5 and still a bit young to start pet therapy, Aiken said, but he may start training this summer.

“He’s a cutie,” he said.

Pictured: Monty, an 11-year-old Jack Russell and border terrier mix, will return to Yale Law School next fall to continue the library's pet therapy offering. Photo Courtesy of Public Affairs Office, Yale Law School.

What do you think of Monty’s story? Do you know of therapy dogs who work in libraries near you? Tell us below!

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Ches21
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Ches21
2 years ago

I have seen a golden retreiver and a lab in my library before but the only permanet resdient animals there are the fish. But I do like this story and I like rats their cute but I also like dogs their cute too. I need to get Skitters certifeid she knows when I have a high or low blood sugar also she could go everywhere with me then.

Good Point | Reply ›

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