NEWS

Mount nursing professor provides animal therapy to grieving community

January 14, 2013

Newburgh, NY -

Dog Therapy

(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 seven years.

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 average.

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.