Ashlar, the therapy dog, crawled through chairs and under a desk as his owner and Loyola council manager David deBoer fed him a bacon treat in the wellness center office.
After a long day at work, Ashlar plopped down in the middle of deBoer’s rug, next to his bin of toys, including a stuffed Volkswagen van.
“It’s heartwarming, it’s fun to see other people enjoying it,” deBoer said. “Who wouldn’t love to have their dog at work?”
Ashlar has worked with the Wellness Center for over three years as Loyola’s official therapy dog, attending events and hosting almost daily “Ask Ashlar” events on campus.
Aged around six and a half, Ashlar is a mix of Great Pyrenees and Australian Shepherd, where he gets his fluffy white coat and “suave and sophisticated” demeanor, according to deBoer.
Ashlar follows in the footsteps of a black lab that hosted “Talk with Tivo” and a mixed race that held “Sit with Santos.” Tivo retired after five years with Loyola and Santos quit after a year in 2018, The Phoenix reported.
Sophomore Abi Knippel is an avid fan of Ashlar, seeking him out every Friday after their Women’s and Gender Studies class.
“There’s a reason so many pets are used for therapeutic purposes,” the biology major said. “He’s so sweet and calm. It’s just a little stress reliever.
If the students are lucky, they can see Ashlar on her daily walks with Sonia Mendoza or Lauren Peters, both office assistants for the wellness center.
Mendoza, with his own American pit bull at home, said the students coming over and asking to pet Ashlar was the best part of the rides.
“People smile when they’re with Ashlar,” she says. “It’s a good feeling to see people smiling.”
Having grown up with dogs, Peters even appreciates the non-human relationships Ashlar forges on his walks around Damen and Mertz.
“I like when he can interact with other dogs because he’s really excited about them too,” the Loyola alumni said. “He stops completely and has to say hello to them.”
Loyola’s history with therapy dogs began in 2008 when deBoer and other therapists volunteered to attend a memorial service for the shooting at Northern Illinois University. As the community mourned her loss, deBoer noticed how students “swarmed” the golden retrievers at the event.
“I was really struck by how the dogs really provided that kind of comfort that was preverbal,” deBoer said.
From then on, Loyola established a regular relationship with Canine therapy body in Chicago and eventually partnered with TOPS Kennel in Grayslake, bringing in Tivo.
Ashlar was adopted from the same kennel in the summer of 2018, after being rescued by Orphans of the Storm Animal Shelter, according to deBoer.
“I can’t imagine anyone giving up on this beautiful dog,” deBoer said.
Ashlar was originally trained to be a service animal, according to deBoer. When a family could no longer take him, TOPS contacted Loyola and deBoer began working with them to help Ashlar pass his therapy dog exam.
DeBoer said the assessment involved ten tests in total, including remaining quiet and in place when the owner leaves the room and walking straight into a room with food all around.
All of this training has led to Ashlar’s prominent presence on campus. In addition to nearly 3,000 followers on Instagram, students are regularly honored by her presence throughout Loyola.
“He’s really good with people, of course, because he’s a therapy dog,” Mendoza said. “He likes the attention.”
DeBoer said he noticed a stark difference between home life and Ashlar’s work life. The excitement Ashlar has of seeing the students and being at work is something deBoer sees in the students as well.
“Many of our students are living alone for the first time, away from home and family,” deBoer said. “They just find it very comforting to be able to say hello to this dog, because so many people miss their own dog at home, which often replaces whatever is missing at home.”
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