Taylor Arthur

A group photo of the therapy dogs attending training on the lawn at the Simi Valley Senior Center in Simi Valley, Calif., on March 9, 2022.

Love On a Leash

A closer look at the importance of therapy animals

April 21, 2022

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Photo of students with the therapy dogs on CSUN campus, courtesy of Katherine Spilos.

After weeks of hustling, the rhythmic panting slows down the racing heart. Students run their fingers through the warm fur of a German shepherd. As they take a moment to breathe during the chaos of finals season, Love on a Leash therapy dogs are ready to greet them with a much-needed escape from reality.
“University students also commonly face emotional and social difficulties. A survey of American college students revealed that in the past year, 59% felt very lonely, 65% felt very sad, and 37% felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function,” stated the American College Health Association.
Looking into the eyes of a dog, some find comfort in their pure intentioned nature. Dogs not only have provided companionship to humans for more than 30,000 years, but they have also become a vessel for healing.
Love on a Leash has been providing therapy dog services to CSUN since 2016. LOAL treats people all around the San Fernando Valley, assisting with mental health and other health-related issues. The organization visits hospitals and schools around Los Angeles, bringing smiles to those in some of the hardest times.
Katherine Spilos, the President of the German Shepherd Dog Club of the San Gabriel Valley and chapter leader of the Love on a Leash Angeles Valley Foothill chapter, and her 9 ½-year-old German shepherd Lia have been working with LOAL since 2013, but Spilos has been working with German shepherds in the therapy volunteer industry over 20 years.
“Our German shepherd dogs not only provide pet therapy, their intelligence and ability to quickly evaluate emotions and environments makes them exceptional therapy dogs,” said Spilos.

TK, a therapy dog in training, licks trainer Katherine Spilos at the Simi Valley Senior Center in Simi Valley, Calif., on March 9, 2022. (Taylor Arthur)

Each service dog must be certified through the American Kennel Club. Spilos and her volunteers only work with organizations that are nationally approved by AKC. The dogs’ temperaments are the foundation of what makes them ideal for therapy situations.
Spilos also went on to say the group does extensive outreach with first responders and hospital patients.
“Though not service dogs, many testimonials praise therapy dogs for giving miraculous comfort, encouragement and healing to people suffering from either physical or emotional pain,” Spilos said.
The study done to see the impact of student and dog interactions prior to exams, “Petting Away Pre-Exam Stress,” proved that these human-canine interactions provided a temporary stress relief but a much needed intervention.

“Considering the many challenges university students face, and the negative consequences of these challenges, interventions to reduce student stress and improve health and well-being are of utmost importance,” according to the case study.

Being a student is challenging enough as it is. Keep an eye out during finals week this semester around the library or the Oasis Wellness Center, you may just spot a certified four-legged therapist to help relieve your stress and give you the boost you need before going in for the big exam.

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