Therapy pups offer snuggles during midterms

First-year Mel Thomas pets Bandit, a therapy dog.
First-year Mel Thomas pets Bandit, a therapy dog.

By Abby Weingarten

What’s the antidote to anxiety at midterm season? Snuggly pups, of course.

Lucky for New College students, pet therapy dogs Bandit and Vixen came to the rescue in Jane Bancroft Cook Library last week, welcoming a plethora of kisses, lap sessions and belly rubs. The 7-year-old miniature pinscher/chihuahua and 11-year-old longhaired chihuahua were just what the doctor ordered.

“I’m very much an animal person, and it’s so nice to have such a positive experience with animals,” said New College first-year student Mel Thomas. “They bring so much joy.”

That’s the idea, and one that Helene Gold (the research, instruction and information literacy librarian) brought to New College when she arrived in October 2018. She arranged the first dog visit, with pups from the Humane Society of Sarasota County (HSCC) program and their trained handlers, that winter. Dogs have visited each semester during finals weeks ever since, and they will return in the fall.

“Students will say, ‘I miss my dog at home’ and tell me how much they love being around the dogs here,” Gold said. “So I’m really glad we have a space to do this.”

Bandit’s handler, Sheila Foley (also New College’s custodial coordinator), delights in watching her little pup work a room. Quite a character, Bandit is known for claiming strangers’ laps for extended periods of time, rolling over on his back for massages, and expertly modeling his blue neck bandana.

“People just love him,” Foley said with a laugh. “He’s just ‘that guy.’”

Tony Benade, who handles Vixen, is an equally proud parent.

“She just loves being with kids. She lights up around kids,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better, sweeter dog.”

And Barbara Dubreuil, New College’s coordinator of library operations, has regularly seen the impact these furry companions have made on the students: the instant mood lifts, the laughs and the love.

“It’s the best stress reliever for them this time of year,” she said.

For more information on the HSCC program, visit hssc.org/get-involved/volunteer/pet-therapy.

Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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