UW-La Crosse begins Dr. Wags Program

Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 6:31 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - As UW-La Crosse begins its 2023 fall semester, it also marks the beginning of the Dr wags program. The program stars Rossi, a smart dog that comes from Canine Companions.

The university’s occupational therapy program director, Laura Schaffer, explains the goals of the program.

“We’re really excited to bring Rossi in to work with our students, to really teach our students how to work with individuals that have service animals, how we can use the dog as a tool to engage and really help with independence with our patients and our clients. And we also want to help serve the community when we do our student led clinics and wellness groups,” says Schaffer.

Schaffer also hopes that Rossi can be the start of something big with the program.

“We hope to also incorporate therapy dogs into the university here to help with emotional regulation with our students here on campus. And we also are going to be using him as part of our research center because we really want to look at kind of the human animal bond and how that helps with quality of life and well-being,” says Schaffer.

Rossi joined a class of about 20 students to help them learn about therapy dog training.

“That is our recreation therapy clinical education class, which is actually kind of brand new this year because they kind of redid some of the curriculum. And he’s a part of that class because, as Dr. Schaffer said, we are trying to incorporate him to teach the students how to use a therapy dog and where and what settings that he can be used in,” says undergraduate recreational therapy student, Rachel Gundrum.

Gundrum says in it’s short time, the program has already been a big help.

“I am already learning a lot. I’ve been here for two days starting classes and being in this class. I’m already excited. I’ve already learned how, like in the demonstration they showed what he can do and with different people with different disabilities. And I look forward to learning more about that and more about how office therapists are able to use him in different ways as well,” says Gundrum.

Rossi is the first canine to become part of UW-La Crosse classrooms. He will specifically be in clinical classrooms where future occupational therapists, physical therapists, recreational therapists, and others are learning how to incorporate service dogs into therapy.

Support comes in many forms and Rossi brings it with a cold nose, and a warm heart.