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Pause for Paws: Connecting Students and Pets

This weekend, teams of puppies will compete in the 11th annual Puppy Bowl, a Super Bowl-inspired canine competition airing on Animal Planet that’s generating excitement among dog lovers everywhere. In need of a dog fix yourself? Here’s a look at one on-campus event that’s uniquely Ursinus: Pause for Paws.

Pause for Paws is an event for which faculty and staff are invited to bring their dogs to campus to interact with students. Brenda Lederach, Visiting Instructor in the Psychology Department, coordinated the first event in 2012 with help from Assistant Dean of Students Missy Bryant and Suzanne Fong, wife of the late President Bobby Fong. The concept for Pause for Paws was suggested by Interim President Lucien “Terry” Winegar (who was Dean and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the time) during discussions regarding wellness events when Lederach was mentor for the SPINT (Special Interest Housing) Wellness House. 

“We felt that students missing their beloved dogs while away from home would enjoy the chance to visit and play with dogs belonging to faculty and staff,” says Lederach, who continues to organize the events.

Feedback has always been quite positive. “The dogs love it, the students love it, and the faculty and staff enjoy it as well,” says Lederach. “It is nice to see students, faculty/staff and dogs interacting outside the classroom. My favorite part is watching the students get excited when they see the dogs outside Wismer. You can almost see their stress melting away, at least for a little while, when they sit down on the ground and get surrounded with dogs.” 

Two of those dogs belong to Professor of Theater Domenick Scudera. Cyrus and Lucky are both two-legged dogs that walk with wheeled carts. “I think it has been meaningful for the students to see Professor Scudera’s dogs overcoming their physical challenges,” says Ledarch.

Cyrus is a trained and certified therapy dog, and he makes weekly visits to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. Lucky is in training to become a therapy dog and has not taken his certification test yet, but being on campus and meeting students is a great way for him to practice his training skills. (You can read more about Lucky on his Facebook page.) “They receive a very warm reception whenever they are on campus,” says Scudera. “People are drawn to them because they are different. Students want to pet or hug them.” 

“I enjoy being able to provide some canine comfort to our students,” says Scudera. “Students miss their pets so much when they are away from school. Having some time with the dogs allows the students to feel a little more at home when they are on campus. It is also a stress-reliever for many of them. Spending time with dogs has been proven to lower people’s heart rates and relax them. Sometimes our students need a canine break to brighten their days.”

The event has grown a bit since 2012, with the addition of dog CPR demonstrations by Technology Support Specialist Ray Stitt and a Halloween costume contest for the dogs (the winner receives a chew toy and biscuits).

Held on the first Friday of each weather-permitting month, Pause for Paws events will hopefully resume this semester in March.