Concordia University Wisconsin pilots animal-assisted therapy program

Animal-loving students studying health professions at the university can now add on the optional certificate

Mequon, June 27, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) --

Concordia University Wisconsin is the first college in Wisconsin - and among the first nationwide - to pilot an animal-assisted therapy certificate program.

The program, which launched officially in fall 2018, attracted 11 CUW students in its inaugural academic year. Those interested in the elective program must be enrolled in either occupational therapy, physical therapy, or speech-language pathology at Concordia. The program requires the completion of seven courses and 225 hours working closely with certified comfort dogs. 

Animal-assisted therapy is a therapeutic intervention that incorporates animals - in Concordia's case, a dog - into the treatment plan. The animal is used to enhance and complement the benefits of traditional therapy.

"Animal interactions have proven to have many health benefits for patients, such as lowering perceptions of pain, their heart rate, and stress," said Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at Concordia Lois Harrison, PT, DPT, MS, who oversees the program. "In animal-assisted therapy, we see the dog as a reinforcer. It can be a really great motivator for someone who is on the road to rehabilitation." 

Last summer, Concordia purchased its own comfort dog, named Sage, to aid students enrolled in the program. Sage works the equivalent number of hours as a full-time employee and often accompanies students on their clinical rotations, both on campus and within the community. 

Abby Foster just completed her bachelor's degree in occupational therapy and is now pursuing her master's degree in the field from Concordia. Foster is among the pilot cohort of students who chose to enroll in the certificate program. She worked closely with Sage throughout this past academic year. 

"My mom is a veteranarian and so I've seen firsthand the impact that dogs can have," Foster said. "I'm so excited to be able to add this credential to my degree because I could see myself working with animals even before Concordia started this program."

Foster said she observed countless times the effect Sage would have on students, even in passing, at Concordia. 

"You'd see people's faces light up and their mood immediately improve," Foster said. "It'd help them to open up and talk with people around them and really form better relationships." 

Animal interactions are shown to have physical, psychological, and emotional benefits for many individuals, says Harrison. 

"It's more than just doing visits with a pet dog," Harrison said. "We work with highly compliant, well-trained animals who really become an extended health care provider." 

Learn more about Concordia's program by visiting


Concordia University Wisconsin is located on the Lake Michigan shoreline, just over 15 miles north of Milwaukee. Concordia's comfort dog, Sage, works with students in a variety of health care settings.

Contact Data