GateWay's Canine Counselor Encourages Well-Being

Wednesday, October 4, 2023
Dash, a chocolate brown labradoodle, wearing a GateWay id badge, sitting in front of metal planter with cacti

GateWay Community College (GWCC) is excited to announce a furry addition to the campus staff. Dash, a 4-year-old, 65-pound labradoodle, is a therapy dog, certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. He works alongside owner/handler Monica Buensuceso in the counseling department.

Dash is part of a growing well-being focus at GateWay, and he brings a unique set of skills and benefits to the counseling team. Beyond having a friendly disposition and gentle temperament, Dash offers real comfort and support to those around him.

Increased workloads and evolving demands have created increasingly high pressures and academic strain for students. To help reverse these trends, GWCC has joined the hundreds of other colleges and universities across the country offering some sort of a pet therapy program as a supplement to established wellness services.

“Stress, anxiety, worry, and sadness are common reasons students seek our services,” said GateWay Community College counselor, Monica Buensuceso. “Interacting with animals, especially dogs, provides almost immediate relief from some of those symptoms.”

Expansive research has affirmed that both petting and simply observing a dog produces lower blood pressure and even aid in pain management.

Furthermore, studies confirm that college students who spent just 10 minutes with a canine counselor enjoyed higher levels of powerful hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin, as well as experienced expanded mental dexterity in the form of greater focus, increased memory, better organization, and overall motivation, yielding higher GPAs and lower dropout rates.

“We realize that a student’s life is multi-faceted and they may encounter challenges during their time with us,” said GateWay Community College President, Dr. Amy Diaz. “As the first Community College of Well-being, we are always updating our methodologies to progress and ensure we’re supporting the whole student in the best ways possible, and now Dash is a key part of that effort.”

Further mirroring the mental health movement across the U.S., Dash is one of the more than 50,000 working therapy dogs in the U.S., offering canine counseling sessions.

GateWay’s counseling services are available on the Washington campus and are free to current students. Sessions offer a collaborative relationship between a professional clinician and a student in need of help with adjusting to the college environment, time management, improving self-esteem, setting goals, and more.

The counselors work to promote the development of effective and adaptive behavior. This process enables personal growth and the development of vital tools that may be carried over into multiple aspects of life.

GateWay counselors do not provide clinical treatment. Instead, counselors make students aware of possible alternative solutions to various situations, encouraging responsibility in taking action, as well as connecting students with the available community resources.

To connect with a counselor, schedule an appointment here or just pop in to meet Dash at an upcoming event.