Once upon a time, Hoonah the dog was found as a puppy, piled in a crate with his brothers and sisters. They were left outside Stray Rescue, where the organization sheltered them and cleaned them up. As time wore on, all of Hoonah’s siblings were adopted, and he was sent off to the Puppies for Parole program; there he continued to grow and grow … and grow.
Jenny Scott, a social worker for Saint Louis University, was participating in an online conversation with college counseling staff across the country. The topic fell on therapy dogs, and her colleagues talked about how helpful the dogs can be for new incoming students who miss their dog(s) from home. Scott had always talked to her students about how great Stray Rescue is, often sending them to volunteer at the shelter.
“I saw they had a program where you could get therapy dogs,” Scott said. “I contacted them, and they sent me a whole list of dogs. I was looking for a dog that was cat-friendly and would be trained and ready to go for the fall semester.”
This was May 2016. Some of the dogs weren’t ready yet, but Scott was told there was one that would be perfect for her. So she went to meet him.
“My jaw dropped when I saw him,” she says. “He was so adorable and huge.”
Weighing in at 120 pounds, Hoonah greeted Scott. She fell in love immediately, which was good, because the staff at Stray Rescue asked if she could take him home that day.
“I took him straight to work,” Scott says.
Hoonah hit the ground running as a therapy dog in SLU’s counseling office that day. He was at SLU the entire fall semester, welcoming freshmen to orientation and even getting to go to a square dance with approximately 1,000 of his new best friends.
“I use him for outreach events and also in sessions with students who have panic or trauma issues,” she says. “They can pet him and ground themselves when those anxieties come up.”
While Hoonah had a great first semester at SLU, second semester was harder for him. Since he’s such a big dog, he has hip dysplasia. He tore both of his back leg ligaments and had to have surgery to fix his knee in February 2017. Then, in May, he had his second surgery. Being kennel-restricted was hard for Hoonah, but he was very patient. Scott worked with him on colors and numbers while he healed. Though she had to haul him up and down the couple of stairs she has, she says it was a bonding experience for them.
On July 21, Hoonah got to go back to work.
“He was so happy to be back,” Scott says. “He loves being outside of his kennel and going for walks.”
Now that he’s on the mend, Hoonah’s quirks have come out. He loves sticks, apples and doughnuts. Scott says he absolutely despises water and will avoid puddles at all costs, but she’s working to try to get him used to water, because she knows it would help with his rehabilitation.
“It’s been a challenge with his surgeries. The students were so sad when he wasn’t there,” Hoonah says. “But Stray Rescue has taken care of both of his surgeries and medications. They’ve been so amazing.”
Scott believes dogs like Hoonah can help reduce the stigma of counseling.
“Having a dog there softens everything and reduces the stress of talking to someone,” she says. “It’s almost like magic.”
This story was originally published at laduenews.com. Read it on LN’s website here.