This year marks the first anniversary of Emory University's hairiest employee, Beowulf. Beowulf joined the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) team on September 7th of 2015. Since then, she and her handler, Dr. Colleen Duffy PhD, licensed Emory psychologist and Interim Doctoral Training Director, have been off to an impressive start here on campus. In just one year, they have not only helped to bring awareness to Emory's mental health services, but they have made great strides in de-stigmatizing counseling and broadening CAPS' outreach.
The Counseling and Psychological Services Office, located at 1462 Clifton Rd, aims to "[provide] free, confidential counseling for enrolled undergraduate, graduate and professional school students." They offer individualized or group counseling services in addition to outreach initiatives, stress management, and biofeedback support.
Before coming to Emory, Beowulf's handler, Dr. Duffy, worked in a private practice in North Carolina where she specialized in working with individuals who had suffered interpersonal trauma. Throughout those sessions she observed that many people opened up about their close relationships with animals, whether it was a childhood, or current pet. She noted that many clients expressed that their animals were a source of "attachment, . . . care and unconditional love." At this time, Dr. Duffy was also aware of the personalized support service animals could provide, specifically for individuals in need of a medical alert dog, those with autism, veterans, or others who have suffered from trauma. She began investigating animal support options in an effort to find a specific service dog for a client. Over the course of her search, she learned a lot about the process of acquiring a trained service animal. She explained that a pre-trained and personal service dog can be very expensive and the waitlist can be up to two years. While this information was daunting, it demonstrated the high demand for this type of support. Though she originally had no intention of expanding her own practice to partner with a therapy animal, she began to wonder what impact a therapy dog may have. She expressed her thought process, stating, "I wanted a therapy dog because if one dog could do that for one person, what could a dog do for multiple people, especially clients."
It was during the search for a personal service dog for a client that Dr. Duffy stumbled upon Beowulf online. She explained that she was immediately struck by the dog's name and its literary connotations. In a conversation with Destination HealthEU she stated, "When you know the epic poem, [Beowulf is] the hero of all heroes. So, I thought what a cool name for a dog, and a service dog or a therapy dog."
In addition to her title, Beowulf is also a very unique breed. Native American Indian dogs are relatively rare. In appearance, they average around 55 to 120 pounds and resemble a German Shepherd or even a wolf. Additionally, their coat consists of hair, not fur, minimizing dander allergens. Beyond their striking appearance, the breed is known for being incredibly intelligent and easy to train. However, Dr. Duffy was not the only one who was taken by Beowulf, as approximately 150 other people were also interested. Ultimately, after meeting with Beowulf's trainer, they both agreed that the two made a good match. Because Dr. Duffy was able to adopt Beowulf as a puppy, costs were substantially lower than the figures she had previously encountered and the two were able to begin the training process as a team from the start.
But like any employee, Beowulf faces her challenges at work as well. Dr. Duffy explained to me that she can tell that Beowulf is fatigued by the end of the semester. Managing transition times can require great flexibility, as there are constantly new groups of people coming in and out throughout the year. Recently, a fire drill proved challenging as Dr. Duffy explained that the blaring noise caused Beowulf discomfort.
Like her human counterparts, Beowulf also maintains a personal life outside of the office. Her hobbies include chasing the cat and playing in the yard with her favorite toys. She is a model of work-life balance, taking time for leisure while retaining the utmost respect for her uniform and daily duties.
I was incredibly impressed during my own interaction with Beowulf. When I came to the office to meet them, she instinctively sat by my feet, immediately recognizing how happy I was to be petting her. Once I pulled out my notes as it came time for my more detailed questions, she intuitively moved to respectfully sit just beside us. She remained alert and in tune with my body language throughout the course of our conversation.
At just 21 months old she has already made significant contributions to Emory's Counseling and Psychological services team, as she continues to not only help clients in personalized sessions, but to bring awareness to the available resources as well.