As end-of-year stress ramps up, so does Calarco Canines, Hopkins’ therapy dog program.
As end-of-year stress ramps up, so does Calarco Canines, Hopkins’ therapy dog program. In years past, Hopkins invited various volunteers and their service animals to participate in the program. Head Librarian James Gette ’00 recalls, “Calarco Canines was first proposed in Fall 2018, and our first event was in January 2019 during [exam] review week.” This spring, Lori Fulginiti and her Bernese mountain dog, Henry, visited students and faculty on Thursdays in the upper library, concluding the program’s hiatus.
Fulginiti and Henry visit several schools and libraries in the New Haven area in addition to “volunteer[ing] off and on for organizations such as Yale New Haven Hospital, Hospice, and Meals on Wheels.” Fulginiti “thought it would be lovely if we volunteered [at Hopkins],” as her daughter attended Hopkins, graduating in 2019. Although therapy dog training requires a significant commitment, Fulginiti always knew she would be “happiest volunteering as a Therapy Animal team” and feels fulfilled knowing “Henry brings joy and a smile to nearly every student he visits.”
Prior to interacting with therapy recipients, Fulginiti and Henry underwent a rigorous training process. Explains Fulginiti, “All therapy animal certifications require a combination of skills training, coursework, health screenings, behavioral assessments, and testing through a national organization.” Building upon Henry’s “basic skills, like sit, stay, down” and gentle disposition, Henry was taught how to comfort anxious individuals. Fulginiti describes discovering unique characteristics in Henry “such as compassion, love and calm around those that were sick or sad or anxious.” Henry and other therapy dogs work to emotionally soothe and calm individuals experiencing anxiety. According to UCLA’s research on Animal-Assisted Therapy, “The simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response.” Fulginiti observes similar responses: “I see sheer pleasure in the students Henry visits. They say things when they are with him like, ‘I could sit here all day,’ or ‘This is exactly what I needed,’ ‘I’m ready for my test’ or ‘I’m ready to do my homework.’” Gette agrees that visiting dogs are “a great source of stress relief, and a good chance for students to take a break, relax, and enjoy something—in this case, petting a very fluffy dog.”
Students and faculty alike attest to these de-stressing benefits. Jay Cusson ’24 noted a “huge shift in mood” when visiting Henry. Says Cusson, “Henry always managed to make us smile [and] definitely helped us de-stress before our last class of the day, especially when we had a test or quiz we were studying for.” Andrew Cotaj ’22 agrees: “After a long school day, seeing Henry was very de-stressing, especially because he recognized me after my frequent visits.” The joy and comfort emanating from Henry extends to faculty members. History teacher Megan Maxwell says, “He is such a magnificent floof with the most soulful eyes [and his] fur is instantly soothing.” Maxwell observes this calming effect on students: “It’s wonderful to see students walk into the library, stress written all over their faces, and spot Henry. You can almost see at least some of their troubles lift.”
Fulginiti and Henry are excited to return to the Hill next year to revitalize the Hopkins community in moments of stress.