For the Love of a Dog and the Health of a Human

Pete's Pet Posse expands nation's most comprehensive pet therapy program to OSU Center for Health Sciences and OSU-Tulsa as part of America's Healthiest Campus initiative.

Center for Health Sciences OSU Tulsa

"If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went," Oklahoma's own Will Rogers once opined.

Dr. Kayse Shrum

Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, visits with students along with her pet therapy dog, Deuce.

The famous humorist was certainly no stranger to the power of dogs and their impact on human beings. Over the years, research has shown a positive link between pet ownership and human health. The simple act of petting a dog can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and feelings of loneliness, stress and anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The healing power of pooches is spreading throughout the campuses of the OSU Center for Health Sciences and OSU-Tulsa.

"As a physician, I know animals play a positive role in people's health," says Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and the dean of the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. "There is something about animals that make people happier and healthier. We always thought they did, but there is actually scientific research to support that idea."

In 2013, Oklahoma State University launched Pete's Pet Posse as part of its America's Healthiest Campus wellness initiative, and it has become the most comprehensive university pet therapy program in the nation. OSU's First Cowgirl Ann Hargis is perhaps its greatest champion.

"These loving animals belong to faculty, staff and others affiliated with OSU and live with their owners full time. Each department decides how to direct their furry feet to best reach the population it serves," Hargis explains.

Pete's Pet Posse was created through a cooperative effort of the President's Office, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital, University Counseling, Human Resources and the Employee Assistance Program.

The success of the program in Stillwater quickly generated enthusiasm about the potential of expanding the pet therapy program to both OSU campuses in Tulsa.

In the summer of 2015, five pet therapy teams were selected from a pool of applicants and completed rigorous training and testing to become members of Pete's Pet Posse Tulsa (P3T). Each dog must be certified as a Canine Good Citizen. Each dog and handler must be nationally registered as a pet therapy team with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Every handler must be affiliated with OSU in some way. Dogs serve first in their handlers' offices as a wellness benefit and then visit other areas on campus when they are available.

After the inaugural "Barkalaureate" ceremony in August 2015, P3T's first class of graduates began serving OSU-CHS and OSU-Tulsa that fall.

"We have activities all year long where our handlers bring their dogs to campus," says Ashley Adkins, director of university affairs at OSU-CHS and coordinator of Pete's Pet Posse Tulsa. "These Pet Posse activities are especially important during final exams as we feel it lessens the anxiety for everyone on our campuses."

Just as every person has a story, every dog has one too.

Shrum's family dog, Deuce, is an 11-year-old yellow lab who was rescued from wandering the country roads near their home. He is among the first class of Pete's Pet Posse Tulsa therapy animals.

"Deuce enjoys being around people and this has been really good for him and for the students," Shrum says. "As his handler, I get to interact with students in a less formal setting and get to know them better."

Shrum and Deuce host a monthly visit called "Deuce's Meet and Sweets," where students, faculty and staff can visit with the pair and have a snack.

"When a student told his friend who is a medical student at another university that we have dogs on campus, she was extremely jealous," says Amanda Sumner, whose 5-year-old black lab, Lucy, is a member of P3T. "The program is such a great resource for our students. With their long hours on campus, students are not always in a position to have a dog themselves so it's great that they can see them at school."

OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett also has seen the difference that P3T has made on the OSU-Tulsa campus.

Rocky, a P3T dog, welcomed Tulsa Community College students to the 2016 President's Luncheon as they arrived to learn about the benefits of transferring to OSU-Tulsa. And Diesel, a P3T dog, visited with participants in the OSU-Tulsa Cowboy Aphasia Camp, a week-long treatment program for people with the language disorder. In addition, several P3T teams from both campuses traveled to Stillwater to provide support alongside OSU University Counseling Services after the tragic car crash into the 2015 Homecoming Parade.

"In addition to promoting health and wellness here in Tulsa, the P3T program has provided an opportunity to reach out to and strengthen connections with other OSU campuses," Barnett says. "The presence of P3T has had a powerful and positive impact on students, faculty, staff and visitors."

Megan Whitehead, OSU-Tulsa coordinator of the speech-language-hearing clinic, frequently brings Diesel, a 7-year-old chocolate lab, to campus with her.

"Diesel is able to assist our clients with stress relief while we are working in the clinic," Whitehead says. "He enjoys being on campus and receiving all the attention, so it is good for everyone."

P3T is growing rapidly as awareness about the program increases. A second class of dogs has completed training and began service in the 2016-17 school year.

"We are excited to have our second class of dogs and to further expand this incredible program in Tulsa," Adkins says.

Watch a video on OSTATE.TV to see OSU-Tulsa's Pete Pet Posse in action.