Every dog lover knows the comfort of having their pet companion around, and for students at the University of Vermont, there are plenty of chances to get in a little time with the hounds. Posted up at regular events around campus, UVM’s crew of therapy dogs stand by to interact with students and spread cheer throughout campus. Whether it’s Furry Fridays in the Davis Center, where it all began, or holding it down outside the library during exam week, these canines have students crowed en masse just to spend an affectionate moment with the pups.
Amid the pack of usual pet-receivers is the original good-boy, Tucker, UVM’s famous therapy Golden Retriever. He’s ten years old, has his own Instagram account with close to 1,500 followers (@tucker_uvm), and his relentlessly happy face has become a staple element for many students who are missing home or simply need a touch of the no-judgement attention you can only find at the bottom of a good belly-rub. Tucker first started coming to UVM six years ago visiting students alongside his handler and owner, Jeff Rettew, who got Tucker certified with Therapy Dogs of Vermont and Pet Partners to make it easier to coordinate therapy dog events.
“I would bring him in, once a week on Fridays for like an hour. The Furry Friday program was just him,” says Jeff, recalling the days when he first introduced Tucker to campus. “There’d be like forty, fifty students lined up outside—they knew when he’d be around.” Not only was the response phenomenal, but as evidenced by the increase of therapy dogs on campus in the years since, the want for dogs grew, too.
Other staff have since gotten their dogs certified to meet that demand, including another Golden Retriever from ROTC as well as the dogs of the Provost and his wife. Dogs have to meet a number of qualifications and undergo testing before they can be certified therapy dogs. Good candidates are calm and well-trained dogs who are social, enjoy attention, and like being touched. Once certified, dogs can officially represent Therapy Dogs of Vermont or Pet Partners. They also carry liability which makes it okay for them to be on campus.
At this year’s final event, there were nine dogs to hang out, pet, and play with. The students appreciate getting to see the same dogs over and over again, and by having UVM staff dogs serve the UVM students it takes the pressure off of the Therapy Dogs of Vermont and Pet Partners, who manage visits from certified dogs across Vermont and beyond. “We’re sort of unique with our own population of demand [at UVM], so we tried to figure out, how do we coordinate [this ourselves]?” said Jeff.
Today, Jeff and Tucker have left Living Well in the Davis Center, but don’t worry, Furry Fridays lives on with a new rotating crew of three canine catamounts a week. And you can still find Jeff and Tucker, they’re just a little farther away in the Christie Wright Patterson Complex with UVM’s Wellness Environment (WE).
The complex was recently incorporated as a residential component of WE, which combines the neuroscientific study of development between ages 18 and 22, with actual 18 to 22-year-olds who live in specified UVM residential buildings. Students who live in a Wellness Environment are privy to special incentivized programs that encourage health promoting options, such as daily morning yoga and a subsidized fitness pass based on how much you exercise.
A number of UVM residence halls are part of the Wellness Environment, but only in the Christie Wright Patterson building do you get the chance to see Tucker every day. Since Jeff took his position at the Wellness environment, Tucker also found a new position: laying down under Jeff’s desk, next to an assortment of chew toys and a bowl of water.
Tucker does a lot of more of what Jeff calls “passive programming” now. Besides being at specific functions around campus, Jeff’s office door is open for students to come hang out with Tucker or even take him on walks. “Sometimes I come back to my office and I’ll find students lying on the floor, just petting him,” says Jeff. “They love him.” And it’s true, students often lament to Jeff about leaving Tucker at the end of the school year or after graduation, and for those who spend enough time with him, it can feel like Tucker is actually their dog.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what someone gets out spending a time with Tucker, but the evidence is undeniable and visible and vocal results speak for themselves. Jeff says people can’t help but smile when Tucker walks by, and there’s always someone to say, “that made my day,” or “I really needed that.” As for Tucker, he has no idea. It’s just another day on the job, blissfully unaware of the profound service he provides for students daily.
“You see dudes walking with this too cool for school look on their face, then they’ll just break down, like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ or a guy in the middle of a phone call will go, ‘Hold on, there’s a dog!’” says Jeff. “It’s fascinating to see how people just completely change into this engaging softer side of themselves when they see a dog.”