SHACS - After students responded enthusiastically to a student initiative that established a permanent therapy dog on campus, Grinnell College announced they would be replacing all mental health personnel at Student Health and Counseling Services (SHACS) with therapy dogs.
“It sounds unorthodox, but really it’s just common sense,” said Dean of Students Leigh Byrd. “Grinnell is committed to serving our students’ needs and responding promptly to their feedback. So if the student body approves an initiative to bring therapy dogs to campus, replacing all trained mental health professionals with dogs is a natural next step.”
According to SHACS Director Anne Santiago, the shift to fewer therapists and more dogs was also fiscally sound. “We’ve struggled to find qualified, diverse mental health professionals who are willing to move to rural Iowa,” said Santiago. “But as it turns out, dogs don’t care about salaries or communities or good work environments. We’re paying them in belly rubs and squeaky toys.”
Student response to the new staffing decision has been more mixed. “I voted for the student initiative because petting dogs helps me with my depression,” said a first year student who wishes to remain anonymous. “But that doesn’t mean I wanted an adorable corgi instead of a licensed psychiatrist.”
“It just seems kind of weird,” said Kristopher Wade ’18. “I mean, they’re dogs. They’re dogs in lab coats and scrubs. Am I the only one who’s even a little bit weirded out by that?
Wade is not the only one, but he’s not in the majority either. According to official B & S polling data, 68% of the student body reported that their trust in SHACS has either increased or stayed the same following this announcement.
“I’ve been wary of SHACS ever since the time first year that I came in with a cold and they suggested I should go on medical leave,” said Tonya Jackson ‘17. “But I met one of the counselors last week while waiting for a ride to the pharmacy, and all I could think was ‘I would trust this lovable lab with my life.’”
“Honestly, it’s all pretty awesome,” said Gina Lambert ’19. “Sure, I came in because I had a panic attack in class and all the dog did was look up at me with his big, soulful eyes and nudge a bag of cough drops towards me with his paw. But it’s still a step up from last time.”
“Back in the old days, appointments at SHACS felt like a Band-Aid solution that would never even come close to helping me work through my trauma and stay stable enough to focus on school,” added Celia Gardner ’18. “But now that they’ve replaced my previous counselor with a Jack Russell terrier, I’m really starting to feel like Grinnell cares about my well-being.”
The new policy has been so well-received that Grinnell is considering training other institutions to adopt their own all-canine mental within the state’s recently privatized Medicaid system.
At press time, Grinnell was scrambling to find additional qualified dogs after the waiting period for a SHACS appointment ballooned to three months.