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Incoming OSU students find comfort from therapy dogs at orientation

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Pete's Pet Posse at New Student Orientation

Mattie Lewis, an incoming OSU freshman, and Lucy pose for a picture at New Student Orientation. Lucy is a member of Pete's Pet Posse, a program for therapy dogs.

It was a stressful morning for Mattie Lewis, but the presence of two friendly greeters, each with four legs and a wagging tail, quickly lifted her spirits.

Lewis was amidst a sea of incoming college freshmen and their families at New Student Orientation on Thursday on the Oklahoma State University campus. Two canine members of Pete’s Pet Posse, the therapy dog program at OSU, joined the crowd outside the Student Union Ballroom.

The pets’ appearance at New Student Orientation wasn’t an out-of-the-ordinary occasion. Throughout the summer, Pete’s Pet Posse dogs and their handlers are there to welcome families at orientation from 9 a.m. to 9:40 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Lewis experienced the uncertainty many college students endure on orientation day, and she faced the additional hassle of a difficult road trip. She and her mother, Tessa, traveled three hours from their hometown of Mooreland to Stillwater.

“There was construction the whole way this morning, so that’s another anxiety we’re dealing with,” Tessa said.

However, as soon as Tessa and her daughter saw Lucy, a lively golden doodle with pink bows tied around her fluffy ears, their faces were illuminated with happiness. Lewis is accustomed to life with dogs: she and her family own a corgi and a Great Pyrenees, and she plans to study pre-veterinary medicine at OSU.

The Pete’s Pet Posse dogs made Lewis feel at ease, and she and her mother weren’t the only ones who appreciated the comforting atmosphere Lucy and Winnie, the therapy dogs, created. Sean Crosson, a new student from Texas, said living five hours away from his parents and dog is the biggest change he anticipates as he prepares to begin college. Casey, Crosson’s sister, is an OSU student who was with him on orientation day. She encouraged him to take advantage of opportunities to interact with the therapy dogs on campus.

Similarly, Trenton Looney, an incoming freshman from Norman, expressed his support of Pete’s Pet Posse immediately after meeting the dogs on orientation day.

“It’s amazing,” Looney said. “I like it. It shows that everything’s gonna be all right through any process.”

Looney said he is close to Daisy, his Great Dane, so the therapy dogs on campus will help him when he misses his pet.

The Student Union provides the backdrop for a flurry of activity on orientation days. Fortunately, Pete’s Pet Posse members such as Lucy and Winnie are well prepared to take on the excitement. Karen Clark, Lucy’s handler, said her attention-loving pet doesn’t let the events and crowds overwhelm her. She said Lucy participated in a training session that lasted for about a semester.

Penny Cantley, Winnie’s owner, said her canine companion was once a shelter dog in Oklahoma City. After Cantley adopted the rat terrier mix, Winnie partook in therapy dog training so she could brighten the lives of people at OSU.

The dogs’ hard work in training and their owners’ dedication pay off when the dogs positively impact new students and their families before they even enter the Campus Resource Showcase in the Student Union Ballroom. With their energetic demeanors and bright orange vests that display the message, “Ask to pet me, I’m friendly,” the therapy dogs are easily spotted.

“It just makes me smile,” Lewis said. “I was full of anxiety this morning trying to get down here. It’s a real relief to see something that could definitely help.”