Therapy dog becomes USF’s golden Snitch

Move over Rocky, there’s a new mascot on campus.

The 5-year-old golden retriever Snitch, named after the Golden Snitch from Harry Potter, has been wagging her way into the hearts of students and faculty at the Shimberg Health Sciences Library. 

Snitch’s owner, Jill Baker, said the retriever isn’t just here for play; this therapy dog is here to work.

“We thought … the library needs some kind of a good will ambassador, some sort of mascot to liven things up a bit,” Baker said.

The idea to hire Snitch originated after Shimberg Library brought in temporary therapy dogs during finals week. Lauren Adkins, former worker at the library’s circulation desk, said she suggested it would give students a break from the stress of studying.

Manjari Pedapudi, a pre-med student, said playing with a therapy dog did help her get through exam week.

“We are always looking for study breaks to have anyway,” she said. “Instead of just roaming around the hallways, you can just come here and play with the dogs.”

Student reaction was so positive, Adkins said, that they decided to keep bringing in at least one therapy dog every month. Then, in August, Snitch was made the official ambassador for the library.

During Week of Welcome, Snitch, who has her own USF identification card, greeted students at the welcome table of the Morsani College of Medicine Student Organization Fair.

“(Students) were like ‘Oh I miss my dog; I had to move here and go to school and I left my dog at home,’” Baker said. “They’ve got (Snitch) in a bear hug.”

Baker said the crowd at Week of Welcome didn’t bother Snitch one bit. In fact, she licked up the attention.

“She really just goes up to each student, and loves to be petted,” Baker said. “She’s very calm; there’s almost a sympathetic kind of emotion that you feel between her and the people she is visiting with.”

While many of Snitch’s polite manners come from training, golden retrievers are also known for their loyalty, gentleness and friendliness toward people.

“Some (dogs) have temperaments that lend themselves to being therapy dogs,” Baker said. “She has a very calm presence around people.” 

Besides pawing her way around student libraries, Snitch also visits the elderly at nursing homes and small children in hospitals.

“I can’t really imagine what life would be like without a pet,” Baker said. “It just brings out something special in people.”

Therapy dogs are important to different people for different reasons. The benefits students, patients or disabled people get from therapy dogs are both emotional and physical. 

Pets have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels, according to the National Center for Health Research. And the Stress and Mental Health poll showed that 85 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis. 

Baker said, when students come in contact with therapy animals, anxiety fades and a smile breaks out on their faces. 

“All of a sudden people are nicer; they are happier,” she said.

While Snitch isn’t working her magic on stressed students, she is searching for squirrels or doing her agility training. Snitch placed fifth in the 2013 Purina Incredible Challenge.

“She comes out of the field like a bomb,” Baker said. “Or she can go right into the library and visit with students and be calm.”

With all the positive feedback to the new furry ambassador, Baker said students will likely see Snitch again at various campus events and during finals week.