Story provided by OSU News
Pete’s Pet Posse co-founders Ann Hargis and Kendria Cost are taking new roles to promote healthy minds across the Oklahoma State University system through the newly created OSU Center for Pet Therapy.
The center, which opened this fall in the Student Union in Stillwater, traces its roots back to 2013, when Hargis and Cost first launched Pete’s Pet Posse with the goal of helping students cope with the challenges and stress of college. The program continued to grow in popularity and impact, becoming the largest university pet therapy program in the country, and now has a permanent home base in Stillwater — the OSU Center for Pet Therapy.
As director of the Center for Pet Therapy, Kendria Cost is leading the multi-campus team from Stillwater.
“We started pet therapy at OSU to bring smiles to the campus and quickly realized there is a much deeper emotional need uniformly across all university campuses that the dogs are uniquely capable of addressing,” Cost said. “We are not counselors, but it’s amazing to watch how these dogs draw out both the joy and the pain of our students simply by being present in the moment and offering unconditional love.”
Pete’s Pet Posse, named after the university’s iconic mascot, Pistol Pete, is under the umbrella of the Center for Pet Therapy along with the student auxiliary called Ruff Riders, an advisory board and research board. The center was created from donated funds in an endowment from the OSU Foundation and operates independently. Pete’s Pet Posse has nearly 60 dogs working on five OSU campuses: Oklahoma State University, the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa, OSU Tulsa, the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah and at OSU-OKC.
Former OSU First Cowgirl Ann Hargis continues the work she started with her therapy dog Scruff while serving as OSU’s First Lady. Ann and Scruff serve both the Stillwater and Oklahoma City campuses and are available as needed system wide.
“When we started this program, we never dreamed of its impact on the students, faculty, staff and even campus visitors. The dogs have a magic about them that is contagious,” said Hargis. “Parents and students tell us Pete’s Pet Posse is one of the reasons they chose OSU and the program is regularly ranked among the top university programs in student satisfaction surveys. This semester, we are easily seeing 100 students an hour at the Edmon Low Library visits– that is a lot of smiles.”
“For the first time, we have a home!” continued Cost. “Our new hub is a very orange place for guests, students, parents and faculty to stop by and ask questions, talk to Ruff Riders about experiencing the pet therapy teams and to schedule visits. Most visits are scheduled in the places where the students congregate, the Union, campus events, student organizations, campus offices, Greek houses and residence halls and of course – the OSU Library.”
For more information, visit pettherapy.okstate.edu and follow on social media — @petespetposse on Facebook and @pets4pete on Instagram.