A small crowd gathered for a party on the fourth floor of Potter Hall, laughing and joking, while the guest of honor lay under a table catching a few zzz’s.
She finally came out as someone called for the dog-friendly cake to be served.
It was Friday, Aug. 25, and Star, the therapy dog at the Counseling and Testing Center was turning 2 years old. The party was in full swing.
Star is an Australian shepherd and poodle mix who went through therapy dog training and has been working on the Hill since she was 6 weeks old.
I was lucky enough to get an interview with Star in between her party-hosting activities, which included greeting her guests, taking naps under tables and trying to sneak into the next room to snag a piece of chicken in someone’s lunch.
I, myself, do not speak dog (no matter how many coins I toss in a well or episodes of “The Wild Thornberrys” I watch), but Star’s adopted mother and outreach coordinator at the center, Betsy Pierce, knows exactly what Star means and can serve as her professional interpreter.
Editor’s note: Star’s answers are adapted from an interview with Betsy Pierce.
Q: Star, what is your main job here on campus?
A: I serve as a therapy dog, meaning I am here to sit with anyone who needs me during their sessions in the center. I am an anxiety reliever who helps students feel more comfortable while dealing with whatever they’re going through.
Q: Do you enjoy working?
A: I do. It’s not a job for just any dog, and it isn’t just as simple as going through obedience schools and therapy training. It also takes the right kind of personality. There was another attempt to have a therapy dog like me on campus, but if you ask me, she was just a little too high-strung. She couldn’t relax as well as I can, and that’s very important when dealing with so many people in various emotional stages.
Q: Dealing with so much charged emotional energy must be tough. Don’t you ever get tired of working?
A: Sometimes it can be overwhelming, and sometimes I need to take a break and relax. Because I’m so good at easing other people’s anxiety and being around so many stressed people, it can make me stressed too. But my mom and other handlers, as well as all the amazing therapists here at the center, know when I need to take some time for myself.
Q: What makes what you do so special?
A: Well, I’m a therapy dog — not an emotional support animal. The difference there is that therapy dogs are trained to handle many different people’s emotions, as well as being able to be handled by different people. Emotional support animals are trained to care for a specific person. Both are special, but my ability to help ease so many peoples’ anxiety is unique to my job.
I also like to think of myself as a gatekeeper here at the center. I think it is really helpful for people to see me and be less intimidated than if they were to just walk in and go to therapy. It can be a scary thing talking about the tough stuff in someone’s life, and if a friendly furry presence is enough for some people to break down that barrier, then I think that is really special.
Pretty soon, the party dwindled down. Star was off the clock and ready to finish up her cake. Star requested donations to the Humane Society instead of gifts for herself, and after the party ended, she and Pierce took the donations to the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society.
Before the birthday girl left, she gave some parting words. She reminded the guests that when college gets rough (or ruff), they can always stop into the center for help and support.
The Counseling and Testing Center is located in Potter Hall 409 and can be reached at (270) 745-3159.