New Mexico Junior College

Tbird

CASA's Therapy Dog Helps NMJC Students

CASA's Therapy Dog Helps NMJC Students

By Todd Bailey, Hobbs News-Sun

classroom

NMJC freshman Katelynn Villanueva gives Phillip the CASA dog a hug Wednesday at the school, while Erik Vega, background, looks on. Phillip helped NMJC students relieve some of their stress from finals week, currently taking place.

It’s finals week at New Mexico Junior College.

As students finish their tests for the day, they make a stop at the school’s game room.

Along with pool and ping-pong tables, a couple spots where students can sit, visit and relax. A four-legged friend can be seen sniffing in the corners, looking for a random Cheeto for Frito that may have hit the floor.

Phillip the CASA of Lea County therapy dog was at the school Wednesday giving out hugs and kisses to stressed out students in need of a break.

Flor Murillo doesn’t have any pets and when a friend called her regarding Phillip’s attendance, she ran to the game room after her English final for a quick hug.

“I love dogs,” Murillo, the freshman Lovington native, said. “I get excited when I see one. It was cool to see him and give him some hugs. He’s so sweet.”

Armando Faria, also a freshman from Lovington, was surprised to see Phillip in the game room, but was more than willing to spend a moment petting the lovable hound.

“It’s pretty cool having a dog around here,” he said. “It’s a good stress reliever to have him around. We get to forget about our finals for a bit and get to play around with him. It’s pretty fun.”

Phillip’s handler, Hope Hennessy, was contacted by the NMJC Student Life office a few weeks ago about Phillip visiting with students. NMJC Vice President of Student Services Cathy Mitchell said during her time at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, she had some friends who brought their dog to visit students and it was a hit. When Mitchell came to NMJC about 18 months ago, she remembered how great of an idea it was.

“I saw how well the students responded to having a dog around,” Mitchell said. “Then, I also saw a few national reports about how therapeutic it is to have a dog around the school during this time of year.”

As Phillip sniffed around the game room, he would snatch up the occasional ping-pong ball, or even a small ball of Play-Doh he found while looking for something more eatable. But the search for food always stopped when he met a new best friend wanting to give him a hug.

“He’s been receiving a lot of loving today,” Hennessy said. “There’s also Cheeto crumbs that he’s been able to sniff out, so this has been a great day for him. He’s getting chips, belly rubs and everyone is telling him how adorable he is.”

Hennessy said looking for an emotional break can be a bit of therapy for Phillip as well. There are several days when he and Hennessy visit places like juvenile detention, where it’s tough to brighten the day of children in much tougher situations.

“CASA serves all children from newborn to 18 years, but most of Phillip’s exposure tends to be toward teenagers just because we are in juvenile detention 2-3 times a week,” Hennessy said. “So that is the age group he is most around. The kids he works with in juvenile detention are much more emotionally charged. There’s a lot of negative emotion and negative energy. These things Phillip can feel. So when he can come into the community and does lighter assignments like this, it’s good for the kids he serves and it’s good for him as well. I do believe dogs are like people and if you surround them with too much negative or stressful emotional energy, it will eventually take its toll on you.”

On this day, the most stressful part of Phillip’s day was having the self-control to not grab a bag of chips or an unattended cookie. In those moments of temptation, it’s Hennessy who can always pull him away or an NMJC student looking for some furry affection.

Toward the end of their visit, Hennessy and Phillip became honorary members of the NMJC community. Hennessy got an NMJC T-shirt, while Phillip got his own winter scarf in red and gold NMJC colors.

“This has been such a good experience for the students,” Mitchell said. “We are going to look at doing this again maybe one or two times in the spring semester.”

That’s fine with Phillip, as long as there are plenty of Cheeto or Frito crumbs left for him to find.

Todd Bailey can be contacted at editor@hobbsnews.com .