Students who go to the USF Health Shimberg Health Sciences Library probably expect the usual library experience: quiet, books and studying.
However, on some days, they get a little extra. On those days, they’re greeted by a 7-year-old golden retriever named Golden Snitch.
“Snitch is our ambassador. She’s got her own USF ID,” Larry Cramer, the assistant director of library operations for the Shimberg Library, said.
And she does.
She keeps her ID card in a plastic pocket that hangs from her collar. Her owner, Jill Baker — a fiscal and business specialist for the Library — recalled the day they brought her to the ID Center where she sat still in a chair to take her picture.
Snitch is a therapy dog trained to interact with and help students deal with the stresses of college life.
Studies published by the Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology and the American Journal of Critical Care have shown that therapy dogs can help with health issues such as dealing with anxiety, lowering the blood pressure of hospitalized patients with heart problems and assisting with social interactions with children with autism.
The idea to make Snitch the library’s ambassador or even to implement a therapy dog program wasn’t Baker’s though.
Cramer explained that a few years ago, a full-time staff member named Lauren Adkins, who was in library school, decided to set up the first therapy dog event to see if the students would be interested.
“(Snitch) was actually in training before the idea and … it just worked out,” Baker said.
To become a therapy dog, dogs usually take multiple obedience classes and then they have to take a test. It is also recommended that only dogs with a certain personality be trained as therapy dogs.
“(The library) setting isn’t difficult for a dog,” Baker said. “But if you were to take it to a hospital with strange beeping, pieces of equipment and noises, that’s something that not all dogs can tolerate well.”
Snitch has been taking part in therapy dog events since 2012 and she does two or three a semester. She made an appearance on Aug. 24 for Pet Therapy Day and at the Student Organization Event on Sept. 7.
Non-USF Health students do have opportunities to take part in pet therapy events, as well. The MSC has been known to periodically host these events during finals weeks, with the last one held April 28.
Snitch has also been invited to puppy events hosted by other departments, including the College of Education and the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute Research Library.
Baker is a member of Pet Partners, “the nation’s largest and most prestigious nonprofit registering handlers of multiple species as volunteer teams providing animal-assisted interventions,” according to its website.
In addition to Snitch, Pet Partners provides other therapy dogs for the Shimberg library’s puppy events. There are usually four or five other dogs in attendance, including another golden retriever, a Great Pyrenees, a King Charles spaniel and a poodle.
Snitch’s next event this semester will be Nov. 18, when the Shimberg library will be hosting a Christmas-themed holiday event that will include cider and Christmas tree decorating.
They also have plans for her next semester, as she will take part in a welcome back event at the beginning of spring and Puppy Love, an event centered around Valentine’s Day.
“We call it therapy for students and staff and faculty but in actuality the dog is having a really good time,” Baker said. “The dogs make them feel appreciated.”
There is even a program that uses therapy dogs to improve children’s reading and communication skills.
Baker has another puppy, but because he is high energy and slightly scared of noises, she said he probably wouldn’t make the best therapy dog.
At 7 years old, Snitch is no longer a puppy, but Baker says she has at least another seven years in her.
“I can’t walk down the hall without somebody stopping me saying ‘I had a really terrible day and it’s just really nice to pet a dog,’” Baker said.