By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter –
STILLWATER, OK — Pete’s Pet Posse, the nation’s largest university-based pet therapy program, has found a new home. Oklahoma State University has announced the opening of a new facility the OSU Center for Pet Therapy on the Stillwater campus to care for the emotional well-being of students, staff, faculty and guests.
The OSU Center for Pet Therapy is the evolution of the popular and highly successful Pete’s Pet Posse pet therapy program established eight years ago as an experimental pilot program with eight dogs.
Since that time, the nearly 60 Pete’s Pet Posse dog/owner/handler teams have touched more than 263,000 lives, participated in over 4,400 special event appearances and have reached thousands more via social media.
The program has expanded to the OSU Center for Health Sciences and OSU Tulsa in 2015.
Pete’s Pet Posse was created by the OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences in cooperation with the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, University Counseling, Human Resources and the Employee Assistance Program.
In 2021, the first pet therapy team began serving at the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, the nation’s first tribally-affiliated medical school.
“These dogs and their owner/handlers have a proven track record of reaching places of the heart we humans can’t do alone,” said OSU First Lady Ann Hargis and co-founder of Pete’s Pet Posse.
“The incredible generosity of donors who believe in our program is making this new center a reality and keeping a very popular pet therapy program thriving at OSU.” Hargis stated. “The OSU Center for Pet Therapy is positioned to take the work of these teams to a whole new level and my dog Scuff and I are thrilled to keep serving the OSU community in this way.”
Pet therapy is proven in its ability to stimulate an automatic relaxation response in people, improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and increase the release of endorphins for a calming effect.
OSU pet therapy team owner/handlers are not counselors but do support University Counseling as needed in times when the dogs can help diffuse a stressful and difficult situation.
“The dogs of Pete’s Pet Posse amaze me every time I see them at work,” noted Trevor Richardson, Director of Sport Psychology, OSU Athletics. “The unconditional love and non-judgmental temperament of the animals can reach and heal emotional places no human therapist can master. We are thrilled this program is continuing to serve the OSU community.”
The OSU Center for Pet Therapy will be based out of the OSU Student Union but actual pet therapy activity will continue to go where needed across the various campus locations, according to Richardson.
The new center will be the hub for Pete’s Pet Posse administration, the student auxiliary called Ruff Riders, office space for other OSU campus teams, the pet therapy research and Pete’s Pet Posse advisory board. Pete’s Pet Posse co-founder Kendria Cost will serve as director.
Pete’s Pet Posse is self-funded and relies on donations to operate. The Ann Hargis OSU Center for Pet Therapy Endowment has been created to sustain the program.
A gift from the Women for OSU Council will secure the long-term future of the Center, once fully funded, and provide a solid financial base going forward. More information regarding the endowment and how to contribute can be found at osugiving.com
Utilizing the expertise of the OSU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, therapy animals are currently being trained and placed in OSU departments as an additional wellness benefit to faculty, staff, students and visitors to the OSU campus.
The Pete’s Pet Posse mission is to enhance the wellbeing of the Cowboy family through professionally trained and nationally certified pet therapy teams in collaboration with campus resources and supporters.
For more information, visit okstate.edu/pet-therapy.