Since returning from six weeks in a therapy training program in Charlotte, North Carolina, USC's resident therapy dog, Indy, has been holding office hours for students in an effort to help relieve stress.
"I think it's been pretty obvious, so far, the impact she's had," said Justina Siuba, the stress management coordinator at Student Health Services. "We've had students who talk about how much they miss their dog and how homesick they are and just that natural ability to connect and start to make relationships happen, and organic connections come from it too."
Siuba spoke to two first-year students who met and bonded over mutual interests while interacting with Indy at her first meet and greet.
"The only reason they connected was because they both came to meet Indy at that exact time, so the fact that she's helping to foster relationships and help combat loneliness," Siuba said. "She really helps you with all of that."
Although the health center has welcomed visiting therapy dogs to assist with appointment anxiety in the past, Indy is the first dog to work full-time on campus. She was adopted out of an accidental litter at Dog Knowledge, the company that became her training center.
"We knew that we wanted to get a therapy dog, we actually lucked out that the training facility had some puppies from an accidental litter that they had," Siuba said. "And the reason that they suggested going through a dog that they knew the pedigree, versus just adopting just a shelter dog, is that you can predict their temperament a little bit better ... that really helps to dictate what kind of a role they'll have."
While also helping to satisfy the need for an animal friend, Indy has provided students the chance to spend time with a dog without the challenges of owning their own dog while in college.
“A lot of students realize the responsibilities of having a dog and what that’s like while being a student, that it's a lot to not only maintain your health and well-being and be academically successful, but then throw a dog into the mix, that’s a lot,” said Siuba. “So a lot of students realize having a dog right now is too much, so Indy kind of helps to fill that void of a little bit of puppy time.”
Indy’s presence on campus also reminds students of their furry friends back home, and it helps to fill the void that comes with leaving a family pet behind.
“She has really helped with that homesickness piece," said Siuba. "You can connect with your parents, and you can still FaceTime and still have that ability to have a conversation with your family and your friends that you miss, but you don’t get that chance to hug and love on your pup and have a conversation with them.”
In fact, some students have said they benefit from seeing Indy because they miss their family pets.
"A lot of people, including me, miss their dogs, so just being able to pet one and interact with one can help people feel closer to home," said Ruben Level, a first-year pre-business major.
"Having the ability to see a dog is awesome because I'm so far from my dog," added Mikaela Campman, a first-year environmental science student.
With final exams next month, Indy will be available until Dec. 7 to help alleviate academic and personal stress for students.
Students can visit Indy Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m to 4 p.m. and Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. during her office hours. They can also participate in Indy's wellness walks from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.