04/19/2023 3:51 pm
By Sara Myers, Digital Media & Communications Specialist
All are welcome at Rockford University, even fur friends. So, it’s not uncommon to see a group of therapy dogs greeting students, faculty and staff. The program launched in 2017 and has been a comforting experience for all involved, according to the group’s founder.
“The program started off with just two dogs and it got instant attention and was great with the students,” said Greta Alfano, who started the therapy dog group.
The goal, she said, was to help reduce stress. She knew firsthand how effective a therapy dog could be for someone dealing with a lot of stress, she said. Alfano said she was originally inspired to get her dogs certified as therapy dogs after her first golden retriever passed away from Lymphoma.
She said that even though he was in pain, he was still able to provide comfort and support. After his passing, Alfano said she welcomed another golden retriever into her family, Rigatoni. She said she knew instantly that he was going to be a therapy dog.
Alfano started the group at RU after her daughter, who attended the university and has since graduated, suggested she bring therapy dogs to campus. Alfano’s two dogs, Rigatoni and rough collie Biscotti, are both certified therapy dogs, who have visited nearby schools, hospitals, court houses, and more to help support those in the community in need of the service.
The therapy dog group at RU has grown from two dogs to now a dozen. The group and their owners usually make their appearances during midterms and right before finals. On average, they can be seen on the RU campus at least three times a semester, Alfano said.
On March 24, Rockford University students, staff, faculty and visitors were greeted by five furry friends on the first floor of the Burpee Student Center. The therapy dogs and their handlers were available for anyone who wanted to stop and say hello.
Alfano, who has helped lead the group for the last six years, brought her rough collie Biscotti that particular day.
The other dogs in the therapy dog group that visited March 24 included maltese/yorkie (or “Morkie”) Oliver and his handler Dawn Pfluger; golden Retriever Charlie and his handler Kelly Benet from Madison, WI; Golden Retriever Voight (the second) and his handler Melanie Boyd; and Corgi Whisper and her handler Claudia Ashbrenner.
Whisper was named after Queen Elizabeth II’s corgi named Whisper, Ashbrenner said.
“She’s been to (Rockford) City Hall and the 911 Call Center,” Ashbrenner said while talking about where she and Whisper had been to volunteer in town.
Sophomore students Stephanie Ermilio and Ana Varela stopped by Burpee and were happy to see the therapy dogs on the first floor. Ermilo said the dogs give off a type of tranquility. It also made her think of her chihuahua at home.
“It’s nice to chill here and give them a belly rub,” Ermilio said with a laugh.
The therapy dogs will be back at RU at 11:45 a.m. on Thursday, April 27, on Burpee’s first floor.
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