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Therapy Dog Auggie Makes an Impact at SARP

Boston terrier distracts, comforts victims of trauma

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There’s a new staff member at the University’s Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center (SARP), and he’s ready to help students deal with the trauma that has brought them there.

Auggie, a three-year-old Boston terrier, makes his home with SARP director Maureen Mahoney, who adopted him with the hope that he would become certified as a therapy dog and could work beside her and her staff.

“One of the most important things he does is make our office more approachable,” Mahoney says. “Nobody wants to come to this office, ever.”

SARP provides free, confidential crisis response, support, and counseling for BU students who have experienced a traumatic incident. The center focuses on rape and sexual trauma, but staff members apply their expertise to physical assault and other crimes as well.

Students who come to SARP are always asked first if they’d like Auggie to be at their counseling session. If they say yes, they’ll be introduced to the 30-pound ball of restless, inquisitive, squeaky-toy-loving energy.

“Some students think he’s a good distraction, and they’ll play with him,” Mahoney says. “For some students, he’s a comfort. For others, he does something goofy, and it’s a relief. He helps some people focus on things. Just sitting there and petting him while they talk relieves a lot of stress—if he’s willing to sit and be petted.”

SARP’s clients usually talk about very upsetting events; often it’s the worst thing that ever happened to them. Mahoney had seen the research supporting the benefits of therapy dogs for people coping with past trauma, and thought a therapy dog might help with the office’s mission of providing support and advocacy for clients. And since SARP is in an office complex at 930 Commonwealth Ave., not in a medical facility, dogs are not prohibited.

Two years ago, Mahoney got a tip from a friend who knew she was looking for a dog. Auggie, despite being a full-bred Boston terrier with papers to prove it, had been put up for rescue in Florida by his owners. Mahoney was soon on a plane to Florida to pick up the 10-month-old, wondering if he had what it takes to be a therapy dog.

He didn’t. An initial attempt to get Auggie certified as a therapy dog in March 2016  was a failure. “One of us was not mature enough to pass,” Mahoney says. “I’d googled ‘Do Boston terriers to make good therapy dogs?’ I was told, ‘Oh yes.’ But one thing a lot of people left out was ‘…when they get to be about 10.’” Auggie liked the trainer so much that when Mahoney called him, he went to the trainer instead of to her. The trainer said try again in a year, so Mahoney took Auggie to more behavior training, both individual and group.

SARP director Maureen Mahoney adopted Auggie hoping he’d be able to come to work to make counseling sessions less stressful for clients. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

SARP director Maureen Mahoney adopted Auggie hoping he’d be able to come to work to make counseling sessions less stressful for clients.

On the second try, Mahoney worked with Dog B.O.N.E.S. (Building Opportunities for Nurturing and Emotional Support) Therapy Dogs of Massachusetts. Established in 2002, the nonprofit group’s primary purpose is to provide well-trained therapy dog teams to visit nursing facilities, hospitals, rehab centers, schools, libraries, and other locations serving a wide variety of needs.

“It’s not a training—they’re really specific that the dog needs to be trained beforehand,” Mahoney says. “It’s three sessions, basically making sure that the dogs don’t jump on people, that they want to do this, and that you work as a team. Just three sessions of watching us in action and teaching the human team members what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.”

She chose Dog B.O.N.E.S., she says, in part because she learned that the dogs who visit campus to help ease the stress of finals were found through the group, which had already been cleared by BU’s Risk Management. Auggie got his certificate in April, and has since spent time with dozens of SARP clients.

“It’s been kind of impressive to see how our clients light up when he’s around,” says SARP crisis intervention counselor Nathan Brewer. “It’s something that is a way of breaking the ice with some of our clients, reducing the stress of what this office can mean for people.”

There’s no specific protocol for working with Auggie and a client, Mahoney says. If he becomes too much of a distraction, they simply take him to another part of the office.

“He’s really active in the morning, and after two he likes to sleep,” she says. “I’ve actually had students who want to schedule their appointment at three in afternoon, so he’ll sleep next to them in the chair.”

Auggie is good for the staff as well, she says. “It can be difficult to sit with people day after day after day in that situation, and he’s an excellent distraction. We’ll take him out for a quick walk, and it forces us to take a break and get out of the office, even if it’s only for two or three minutes.”

“It’s good for our students and good for us,” says Brewer. “We get to have a fun puppy around as well.”

And in fact, Auggie has fans all over campus who have no idea that he has a day job. So, does he know he’s helping the clients, or is he oblivious?

“He leans toward the oblivious,” Mahoney says. “It’s Auggie’s world, but if you want to join in, you are more than welcome.”

4 Comments
Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

4 Comments on Therapy Dog Auggie Makes an Impact at SARP

  • Judy Chesney on 11.15.2017 at 10:42 am

    Nice article, Joel. As you well know, dogs can be a great comfort …especially when human touch might not be welcomed.

  • Kathy Downey on 11.15.2017 at 12:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing Auggie’s important work, Joel. Dogs (I have one sleeping by the fire/woodstove and another snoozing on a giant pillow) enrich our lives. So do cats. Next article, cats! (Then pigs, cows, goats . . .) Thx for a lovely article.

  • Lara on 11.15.2017 at 8:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s not only a great way to show the benefits of animals for humans, but also to let students, faculty, and staff know that SARP is safe, approachable and there to help them.

  • Margaret Ross on 11.15.2017 at 9:14 pm

    Wonderful article! Maureen’s perseverance has ended up being win-win for everyone involved. Thank you so much for letting the campus know.

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