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WVU business school therapy dog provides healing to students, families and hospital patients

The West Virginia University College of Business and Economics therapy dog, Vivian, in all her playfulness, serves as a soothing presence to help students, faculty and staff relax and feel at home

The West Virginia University College of Business and Economics therapy dog, Vivian, in all her playfulness, serves as a soothing presence to help students, faculty and staff relax and feel at home. But Vivian’s therapeutic services reach beyond the walls of WVU’s business school.

Each month, Vivian makes a trip to J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital to visit patients at WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital, but in December, she made a special trip to Ruby Memorial to visit one of our own – freshman marketing major Rachel Hull.

Prior to arriving at WVU to begin her freshman year, Hull, a native of York, Penn., had been diagnosed with epilepsy but, during an appointment at WVU Medicine, doctors believed the diagnosis was inaccurate. As a result, Hull spent the first few days of her winter break at Ruby Memorial to undergo a comprehensive, 24/7 evaluation of her brain activity.

“When Rachel’s father, Greg, reached out to me about bringing Vivian to see Rachel while she was in the hospital, I was just so touched by his kind words and thoughtfulness,” said Brian Chang, director of B&E Undergraduate Programs and Advising. “There was no question – we were going to make it happen. I instantly contacted Dr. Nancy McIntyre, Vivian’s owner, to set it up.”

Chang and the WVU dad devised a secret plan for Vivian’s visit. Coincidentally, Rachel had expressed that interest while walking into the hospital, wondering aloud if Vivian was permitted in the hospital. She even said she might email Chang to investigate the possibility further. Needless to say, when Vivian came around the corner into her hospital room, the first-year WVU student was at a loss for words.  

“It’s funny because I didn’t see a trace of laughter or anything on my dad’s face giving it away. But later on, I’m in my room, and I see Brian peek around the corner. Then Vivian and Dr. McIntyre come walking in, I almost just started sobbing. She came in and once she sniffed around a little bit, she jumped up on my bed and just let me pet her while she played with her new ball. It was just awesome,” Hull said. “I always go into the advising office at B&E and ask if Vivian is in. Or I’ll see her in the Mountainlair or in front of Woodburn Hall. It’s really nice to see her around campus.”

Playing catch with Vivian in the hallway that day, the thought of being in the hospital was an afterthought for a moment. Greg Hull said he knew a brief visit from Vivian would lift Rachel’s spirits, but he admits it was uplifting for him to see her as well. The Hull family had already fallen in love with Vivian long before that day when they were on campus in April 2017 for Discover WVU Day.

The West Virginia University College of Business and Economics therapy dog, Vivian, in all her playfulness, serves as a soothing presence to help students, faculty and staff relax and feel at home

“At that time, we had recently lost our beloved golden doodle, Isabelle. She had the same coloring and mannerisms as Vivian, so I was instantly drawn to her. And when we were in the parent seminar at the College of B&E and Vivian sat at my feet and draped her paws over my shoes as she played with her ball, I turned to my wife and said, ‘Rachel is coming here,” Greg Hull said.

Throughout the last year, the Hull family has found a home-away-from-home at WVU and B&E.

“I was deeply moved by just the response from Brian and Nancy. I was floored. There were times I was overcome with emotion,” Greg said. “I don’t think she would have received that type of outpouring support from any other university. This experience has made me very comfortable that she is at WVU.”