Animal therapy group helps A&M-Commerce students cope with crises

A special group of pets and their owners have dedicated hours of their time over the last month lending helping paws to students in need at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

The group, which consists of six dogs and one cat, was brought together in the wake of the campus tragedy on February 3. That week, several local animal owners with well-behaved pets went to work, letting students give big hugs to furry friends in a time of crisis.

In addition, volunteers from Go Team Therapy, Crisis and Airport Dogs visited Commerce from all over the state so their animals could lend their services. Elizabeth Rudin, first lady of A&M-Commerce, is very familiar with this organization herself.

“Back in Boise, we got a German Shepard puppy named Pi, and we knew he was going to need some good training,” Rudin said. “As he got older, we went through Go Team training, and Pi is a licensed therapy dog now.”

Go Team was founded in 2013 in Colorado by a group of dedicated volunteers and has since grown its ranks internationally. The dogs in Go Team are intensely trained, taught to live their lives almost like humans. The trained dogs learn how to get on and off a bus; how to ride an escalator; and how to attend events with large crowds, all the while keeping a calm and collected demeanor.

The dogs are sent out to events and crises in many different locales, and Rudin said it’s important to let the dog do its work.

“As a handler, you are trained to know that you are not a counselor; you just hold the leash,” Rudin said. “You just have to let the dog be petted and held and do its thing.”

Dogs and handlers in the program have to be recertified each year. Rudin’s daughters, Mia and Isabelle, are also certified handlers. They represent two out of fewer than 100 teenagers in the U.S. to receive the Go Team certification.

Rudin says that the all-volunteer group on campus is not officially affiliated with Go Team, but it is still a labor of love. They have been visiting the Pride Rock residence hall and other areas on campus in the weeks since the incident, allowing students to take their minds off of whatever is troubling them and just enjoy companionship and healing.

“The people involved in this care greatly; that’s why they are putting so much time into this,” Rudin said.

She added that some members of the local therapy animal group are considering training their dogs to be Go Team members and hope to grow the ranks of their band. To learn more about Go Team, visit https://goteamdogs.org/