I f you see a white, fluffy golden doodle running toward you in the halls of the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics , don’t be alarmed – that’s the newest member of the B&E family, Vivian, B&E’s therapy dog. She just wants to shower you with kisses and play tug-of-war.
Joining the super squad of therapy dogs like Marlon Brando at the Statler College of Engineering, Omega at the Reed College of Media among a few others, Vivian will be one of six therapy dogs across the WVU campus. All of these wonder pups are meant to soothe, relax and make students, faculty and staff feel comfortable.
“It’s really for our students and the B&E family. Vivian will be available in undergraduate advising quite a bit during high stress times when there are long lines waiting to see the advisors,” said Nancy McIntyre, interim dean. “During finals time when students are stressed, I’ll have her out where students are studying so they can pet her and relax and try to help with some of their stress and tension.”
Vivian was trained through the service dog training program Hearts of Gold, a nonprofit service dog training center in Morgantown that trains service dogs primarily to aid mobility. The program uses classes in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and a program at FCI Morgantown, a local minimum security federal correctional institution with a detention center.
“The students train the dogs for veterans. The dogs are in the program for two years. Students rotate them as they host or foster the dogs for that two-year period. They bring them to school with them, and they take them to the lab to do the training. It’s a really neat program,” McIntyre said.
“Students and employees at WVU have had a very positive reaction to the therapy dogs. Many report seeking out the therapy dogs during stressful days, as they help provide comfort, if even for a moment,” said Lindsay Parenti, who operates the service dog training program Hearts of Gold within WVU in addition to teaching two related courses.
Hearts of Gold is designed to raise, train and place dogs to assist people with disabilities. It also operates Project ROVER (Returning Our Veterans to Employment and Reintegration), a collaborative program between WVU and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which seeks to investigate the therapeutic benefits of service dogs that are trained to provide physical and psychological assistance to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Vivian was actually trained at the prison. The prisoners who are veterans train the dogs for other veterans. She was trained out at the prison, and the students from the classes at the Davis College also go out and work with the prisoners and the dogs. So, she grew up in an eight by eight cell until she came out a few weeks ago,” McIntyre said.
With more than 40 veterans currently enrolled in B&E programs and the current Veteran's Entrepreneurship Essentials course through the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, B&E has made a commitment to helping veterans. McIntyre said the College is also committed to getting Vivian with veterans as often as possible.
At a year-and-a-half old, Vivian is still quite young and has a lot of energy. She is out of the program early since she is not working directly with a veteran, but her early life and journey to the Hearts of Gold program prove that she is a fighter and will bring comfort to many here at B&E.
“Vivian actually came from a breeder here in town, and the mom forgot to bring her in from outside. The mom had her puppies, and she would bring them inside her Igloo that was kept outside, and she actually left Vivian outside. She froze and was comatose when the breeder took her to the vet to put her down. Jean Meade, a veterinarian and the owner of Cheat Lake Animal Hospital, just couldn’t do it because she’s so cute. So, Jean paid the expenses and warmed her, brought her out of the coma, and then put her into the program. She couldn’t put her down, so she saved our Vivian,” McIntyre said.
Students, faculty, staff and visitors of B&E will be able to find Vivian throughout the building. She will spend time in both the Undergraduate Advising and Graduate Programs offices.
“She just loves people and loves interacting with the students,” McIntyre said. “Maybe with our freshman especially – first time away from home – she can help them adjust to being here. I just think there’s value to trying to help students reduce some of the stress in their lives.”
Vivian is already out and about interacting with students. She has been active at this year’s New Student Orientation, meeting new freshmen and their parents. She also made a trip to Camp Kesem at WVU, part of a nationwide initiative that operates over 70 free summer camps for children between 6-16 years-old that have been touched by a parent’s cancer. Several B&E students volunteered as camp counselors there — and so did Vivian.