Sharon Vojtek, of Palos Heights, and her dog, Spirit, and Meghan Shanahan, of Chicago, and her dog, Keegan, were part of the Oak Lawn Public Library's Finals Week Puppy Break on May 19. (Photos by Kelly White)
Finals Week Puppy Break at the Oak Lawn Library
By Kelly White
Spirit, an 8-year-old Border Collie mix, loves being around people. So much so, that she paid a visit to the Oak Lawn Public Library to help students study for finals. That’s right, a dog in a library; and, she wasn’t the only one.
The Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 Raymond Ave., hosted a Finals Week Puppy Break on May 19.
“This is a great environment for something like this,” Sierra Knutsen, 15, Oak Lawn Community High School student, of Oak Lawn, said. “It’s such a positive space and it helps to unwind from the stress of finals.”
At the free event, certified therapy dogs, just like Spirit, visited the library to sit with students while they studied, giving them the option to pet their stress away.
“She (Spirit) loves this so much,” Sharon Vojtek, of Palos Heights, and Spirit’s owner, said. “She just loves being around people and she brings so much happiness with her everywhere she goes.”
The idea for the Finals Week Puppy Break stemmed from the library’s former Young Adult Librarian, Izabel Gronski, who was cognizant of the stress teens experience during exams and always looking for ways to assist during that trying time.
“A dog can have a calming effect on a person,” Pat Pollard, Young Adult Assistant at the Oak Lawn Public Library, said.
Therapy dogs were selected for many reasons, Pollard said.
“Dogs can lower anxiety and decrease agitation and depression,” Pollard said. “The act of petting a dog produces an automatic relaxation response. Oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin levels increase resulting in improved brain function.”
Aside from the physical aspects of therapy dogs, Pollard said the dogs allow for mental relaxation, as well.
“There is no judgment from a dog. Dogs provide unconditional love. Teens that don’t have a dog or may be afraid of a dog are smiling and interacting with the dog in a few minutes. Teens have so much stress it’s great to hear them laughing and see them hugging the dogs.”
The dogs were from Love on a Leash, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an avenue for volunteer pet therapy teams to engage in meaningful and productive animal assisted therapy through outlets just like the one held at the Oak Lawn Public Library.
Love on a Leash began in 1995 and is committed to bringing comfort, happiness, and healing to more people nationwide by increasing public awareness of pet-provided therapy. The volunteer organization provides an accessible certification process that allows qualified therapy teams to provide effective pet-provided therapy services in their community.
A variety of four dogs from Love on a Leash, both mixed breeds and pedigree, visited the library last Thursday night in the Teen Room.
“This is very calming and it makes it easy to let go of the rest of your day and just relax and study,” Grace Tynski, 16, Oak Lawn Community High School student, of Oak Lawn, said.
The library held the event back in 2018 and it was very successful. They decided to take a break due to the pandemic.
Library staff members are happy to once again offer this program to its teenage patrons this year.
“Teens have a lot of stressors, social, physical and educational,” Pollard said. “If they feel loved and accepted while with their peers after spending time with gentle furry friends, we have succeeded at one of our goals, providing a safe and comfortable place for teens.”
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