January 14, 2013
(Left) Caroline, a therapy dog owned by Mount nursing professor
Debra Hrelic. (Right) Mount nursing professor Debra Hrelic (right)
and her Yorkshire Terrier, Caroline, with another volunteer at the
crisis and counseling center at Reed Intermediate School in
Connecticut. “Volunteers need love too,” said Hrelic.
In the wake of the tragic deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School
in Newtown, CT, Mount Saint Mary College associate professor Debra
Hrelic and her 9-year-old Yorkshire Terrier are providing the
community with a dose of pet therapy.
Hrelic and Caroline, who live only a few minutes away from
Newtown, have been a certified therapy dog team for approximately
The day after the attack, Hrelic was contacted by Therapy Dogs
International and asked to visit the impromptu crisis and
counseling center at Reed Intermediate School in Newtown. She spent
winter break providing daily comfort to families, children,
teachers, first responders, and other members of the community.
“There was a tremendous need for therapy dogs,” observed Hrelic.
“There were times when it was very intense and of course it was
very sad, but it was also extremely rewarding. We touched many
lives, and for that I feel blessed.”
When students returned to school recently, Hrelic and Caroline
remained to ease the transition.
“I am extremely blessed to be able to give back to my community
in this way,” explained Hrelic.
This semester, the busy professor will be teaching a course
about nursing care of the childbearing family (two sessions), as
well as providing real world experience to Mount students doing
their clinicals at Danbury Hospital.
Many of Hrelic’s students and colleagues at the Newburgh, NY
college are familiar with Caroline, who has frequently visited
nursing classes in her role as a therapy dog. Hrelic said she will
continue that tradition this year, since interacting with a
friendly canine “is a phenomenal stress reliever. Junior year is a
very stressful year for nursing students, particularly in the
spring, since they have four nursing courses at once – so her
presence is very calming.”
Forty percent of Mount freshmen aim for health professions. The
college’s nationally accredited four year nursing degree program
features high-tech simulator labs, hands-on clinical experience,
and an NCLEX pass rate that consistently outperforms the state
Hrelic and Caroline will also continue visiting the Newtown
school every Monday until the end of June. They will attend PTO
meetings and a number of special after school activities.