Paws at Iowa advocates for therapy animals for all

A new student organization, Paws at Iowa, plans to work for therapy animals to become more commonplace at the UI. Several organization members attested to the many mental health benefits therapy animals provide.


Contributed photo from Montala Carruthers.

Isabelle Foland, News Reporter

Paws at Iowa is looking to bring therapy animals to campus to improve students’ overall mental health and wellbeing.

While the University of Iowa provides therapy dog services on campus around finals time, the new student organization plans to ensure therapy animals are available throughout the academic year.

Paws at Iowa was founded at the start of the school year by third-year  UI students Mitch Winterlin, Drew Jauron, Carly O’Brien, Erin Elizalde, and Montala Carruthers.The members developed the student organization from a final project in the UI Presidential Leadership class last fall.

“In that class, you are tasked with an issue on campus and what’s like a solution, or something that’s going to help it,” Winterlin said. “So, our topic was mental health, that was something we really wanted to improve on campus, and our answer or solution to that was therapy animals.”

After the class had concluded, Jauron said it ignited a passion in all the members to turn their research into action.

“We realized that the only way that we really could keep working on this was to make it a student organization,” Jauron said. “And so, kind of right after we finished that class in the fall, we started the process of making it a student organization.”

While Paws at Iowa started only a few weeks ago, O’Brien said the group has a clear set of goals for what they want to achieve in the future.

“We definitely want to be the main contact for animals on campus,” O’Brien said. “Eventually, the long-term goal is to have one event at each college in addition to having different types of animals across campus.”

Jauron said many universities have programs like Paws at Iowa in place, and the group hopes to make the university follows suit.

The University of Michigan’s animal therapy program, PaWWs and Relax, brings animals to campus every week during the academic year.

“It’s being researched in other places and all the research coming out of that is human-animal interaction is beneficial for the humans and the animals,” Jauron said. “I think it’s time that the University of Iowa had something like this, where we had therapy dogs and animals on campus more frequently, not just randomly through finals week.”

O’Brien said Paws at Iowa is in contact with Therapy Dogs of Johnson County, which is where they plan to source therapy animals for the next few months.

Paws at Iowa is meeting Sept. 19 at the IMU to plan to outline the organization’s mission as well as possibly have their first therapy dog attend.

Winterlin said the Paws at Iowa Instagram account gained over 200 followers since its first post on Aug. 26. He added their booth was also very busy at the Aug. 31 Student Organization Fair.

“I think the bigger we make this and the more connections we can make on campus, the more people are going to really help our mission of getting therapy dogs on campus,” Winterlin said.

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