As the end of Quarter One approaches, Luther students are preparing for finals amidst a global pandemic and a national election. In order to reduce stress during finals, Luther Emerita Ellen Drewes-Stoen and her husband, Assistant Director of Safety and Security, Erik Stoen, plan to make their therapy dog, Quasar, available to Luther students during finals and upon request.
Emotional support animals (ESAs), which must be legally prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, refer to dogs and other pets that provide emotional support and comfort to their owners on a daily basis. Although there is mixed research about the benefits of an ESA, Sadie Baker (‘21), Lead Outreach Specialist at Counseling Services, believes that support animals are a calming and positive influence for people who struggle with anxiety and loneliness.
“The overall benefit of having [ESAs] is that, usually, those types of animals are supposed to bring a kind of calming presence,” Baker said. “Basically, that [“hugging hormone”] just makes us feel a lot better and alleviates those symptoms of being lonely or feeling anxious and sad. Also, I mean, who doesn’t like having just a dog or a cat to pet?”
Residents on campus are prohibited from having pets in their dorms, except for those who have a mental illness diagnosis and have an ESA letter. However, Ellen Drewes-Stoen and Eric Stoen are planning to make their therapy dog, Quasar, available to Luther students in the coming weeks.
Drewes-Stoen is a professional dog trainer, and has shown dogs for over 30 years. Quasar is her most recent furry companion. He is a a Schapendoes (Dutch Sheepdog), and was certified with the Alliance for Therapy Dogs (ATD).
“I taught at Luther for 40 years, and many students had the opportunity to meet one or more of our dogs,” Drewes-Stoen said. “Those visits and interactions were always positive; students could get a ‘dog fix,’ and of course, relax, pet, and laugh! In many cases, the dogs served as a catalyst for good conversation, and smiles.”
As a person who advocates having more therapy dogs on campus, Director of Counseling Services Meg Hammes (‘91) shared her excitement in response to this new project.
“I’m super excited about Erik and Ellen having their dog become a therapy dog [on campus],” Hammes said. “That is something that has been a goal on campus for a while. There are some policies about what animals could be on campus. We’ve been looking for and have really been trying to increase opportunities for students to have access to animals. It’s exciting that we have finally had somebody who is able to do that for us.”
Baker and Sarah Edgington (‘24) both have therapy cats as their ESAs and say that having an ESA is a helpful and positive experience. Edgington shared her thoughts on the matter.
“One thing I’ve noticed that I can take breaks while studying and being with the ESA is really helpful for relieving pressure and stress,” Edgington said. “My friends also love to come and give Angel [ESA cat] hugs, so many other people also benefit from having an ESA.”
According to Hammes, some Luther students have an ESA, but there are not many of them. The majority of pet sources on campus are the hall directors, and students can get access to those pets as well. Meg Hammes explained that the process of getting an allowance to have an ESA in dorm rooms is to go through the Center for Academic Enrichment and Disability Services, along with Residence Life Services.
As for ESA dog Quasar, Baker thinks that this project will be helpful, as long as it is done with respect to COVID-19 guidelines. Luther students can expect more information about Quasar in the coming week.
“I definitely think it would be a good distraction,” Baker said. “I feel like sometimes we, as students, we’re so involved in a busy culture where we try to do and do and do. It’s so important to take breaks.”
Those interested in acquiring an ESA should contact Disability Services. Students must submit documentation of their disability and of an ESA need from their healthcare provider for review. If approved after an interview process with DS, the Residence Life office will have 60 days to provide options to students.
For those who do not qualify for an ESA, keep an eye out for Quasar around campus.
“When you see a happy black dog whose tail is always wagging, feel free to ‘ask to pet.’” Drewes-Stoen said. “Quasar, ‘the traveling Star’ will happily oblige and share with you his repertoire of tricks!”
“Due to COVID19 restrictions, Quasar’s dog therapy visits on campus are canceled until the situation permits. We look forward to visiting in the future. Stay well, stay healthy!” – Ellen Drewes-Stoen & Quasar