School Adopts Therapy Dog to Boost Mental Health

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Student-athletes and their mental health have come increasingly into the fore, especially in the wake of the tragic death by suicide of former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski.

Schools and athletic conferences have sought to address the unique mental health challenges faced by collegiate student-athletes in a variety of ways, but what’s happening at Missouri Western State University may be a first.

News-Press Now reports that the school has adopted six-month-old Australian Shepherd Myron as the school’s sports therapy dog. The idea came after staff heard from noted athletic trainer and mental health expert Tim Neal, who has published in the National Athletic Trainers' Association's blog on the subject. Neal said that his own dogs have helped student-athletes he serves to overcome mental health obstacles.

“This dog has an actual role in mental health for our student-athletes and our staff,” Missouri Western head athletic trainer Blaise Kriley told News-Press Now.

Myron, named for longtime Missouri Western head athletic trainer Myron Unzicker, was donated to the school for use as a therapy dog at four months old after the school approved the idea. The dog lives with Rachel Petty, a member of the school’s athletic training staff, and spends his days in the training room.

“Knowing he’s here makes it easier [for the athletes] to deal with their injury,” Petty told News-Press Now.

Kriley said that research shows that injured student-athletes are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to mental health struggles like depression and anxiety due to their inability to participate in team activities, and that having Myron around helps to boost their spirits and change their mindset when it comes to the rehabilitation process.

Kriley says Myron is the first sports therapy dog at the Division II level.


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