Sunny, Oreo and Poppy join WMU's new therapy dog clinic

Contact: Jillian Fraze

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University's Dr. Angie Moe, professor of sociology, has been working to establish a clinic specifically focused on training, testing and incorporating therapy dogs into existing operations within the Unified Clinics and the surrounding community.

Seeds were planted for the endeavor in the spring of 2021 when Moe was granted pilot study funds through the newly established Resiliency Center for Families and Children, which was supported by a State of Michigan appropriation. The project was a natural extension of Moe's ongoing work in the area of interpersonal victimization and trauma. The project examined the impact of incorporating therapy dogs into comprehensive developmental assessments at the Southwest Michigan Children's Trauma Assessment Center at WMU, housed within the Unified Clinics. 

The dogs, Sunny, a six-year-old golden retriever; Oreo, a three-year-old Newfydoodle, and Poppy, a two-year-old younger sibling of Oreo, are companion pets of Moe's family. They have been specifically trained and socialized to provide comfort and support to the public. All three hold Canine Good Citizen (CGC) titles through the American Kennel Club. Sunny also holds an AKC Therapy Dog title, and Oreo holds a CGC-Advanced title. They are certified through the national organization, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, for which Moe also serves as a tester/observer. Sunny and Oreo carry additional certification through the national organization, HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response [AACR]. Moe is a screener and instructor for HOPE AACR as well as the state coordinator for Michigan. 

Early in the project, it became clear that the dogs have tangible impacts on establishing safety and respite for children, as well as aiding in regulation and emotional balance. The same impacts were noted in regard to their guardians, caseworkers and the staff and interns of CTAC. As Moe collected observational and interview data and began the process of publishing the findings, funds to sustain the project were allocated through the RCFC's second- and third-year funding.

Other personnel throughout Unified Clinics also took note of the positive impacts the dogs brought to staff and clients. Joe Kuchenbach, interim director of Unified Clinics and director of Behavioral Health Services, began conversations with Moe last summer about establishing a therapy dog clinic. By repurposing space formally used for storage, Moe now operates out of an office and can provide ad-hoc respite for staff and clients and maintain her involvement with CTAC and the RCFC. She has expanded her support services into speech therapy services and began using the space for training and testing future therapy dogs and their handlers.

To learn more about the clinic and its services, contact Dr. Angie Moe at (269) 387-5276. You can also follow all three dogs on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok at @sunnythetherapydog, @oreothetherapydog and @poppythetherapydog/@poppytherapydog. 

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