By: 
Marcia Layton Turner
Honoree: 
Concordia University Wisconsin

One of the most popular public figures on the Concordia University Wisconsin campus isn’t a student or long-time faculty member, but rather a celebrity of the canine variety. 

Zoey, a golden retriever, stars in Concordia’s two-year-old Comfort Dog Program, which offers stress reduction, emotional relief and improved well-being to students, faculty and staff. “Zoey provides what amounts to a canine version of a deep breath,” says Dave Enters, director of counseling services and head of the program.

Zoey assists therapists in the counseling center and participates in classrooms to enhance the emotional well-being of students. She also spends time in Mequon, the university’s hometown, visiting nursing homes, hospitals and schools. In all, she encounters about 100 to 300 people a day.

While some colleges and universities may bring dogs onto campus to help reduce stress, Concordia’s program is one of just a few with a full-time resident dog owned by the university.

Six students, three staff members and one faculty member completed a two-day training program to establish a relationship with Zoey so they could serve as her handlers. Zoey was trained eight hours a day for a full year through the Lutheran Church Charities before qualifying as a service dog.

And Zoey has been a success—63 to 68 percent of students surveyed said interacting with the dog helped with anxiety, stress and depression.

An added bonus has been the positive impact Zoey has had on her handlers. These students get a confidence boost from seeing the difference they’re making in their classmates’ lives, Enters says.

“You’re a changed person when you successfully acquire the ability to manage a trained dog,” says Enters. “It nurtures a sense of wanting to make a difference.” 

Inside the program

  • Zoey works 40-50 hours on campus and in the community in a typical week. She has two caregiver homes—a primary and a backup—that she retreats to at the end of the day.
  • Zoey generally heads out to high-traffic areas like the library, campus lounges and the dining hall to spend time with students.

Want more information on this success program? Email rbendici@universitybusiness.com to request a complete copy of the institution’s entry form.