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Be Well 2020: Sandy, a doggone good de-stressor at GSU

Chill dog Sandy helps stressed out students chill at Governors State University. 

Editor’s note: This article is the seventh in a series of stories that originally were published in the Chronicle’s March 1 health and wellness supplement sponsored by Franciscan Health. This article was provided by Governors State University.

On a hectic Monday afternoon, you might miss Sandy chilling out at the feet of her owner, Steve Hyzny, on the balcony of the Governors State University library.

Then the entrance door creaks as it opens and Sandy jumps to life, her light brown tail in full swing as she greets her guests – many of them Monday “regulars.”

GSU sophomore Sierra Mondy stops by every chance she gets to see Sandy.

“Just petting her helps me feel better,’’ said Mondy, a marketing major. “It helps lower my stress level.”


Sandy, a comfort dog, is helping students and staff at Governors State University reduce their stress levels. She visits the university on a regular basis. (Provided photo)

The therapeutic effects of human-animal interaction on mental and physical health are well-documented—and on full display every Monday afternoon when Sandy arrives at 1:30  p.m.

Hyzny, a lecturer at GSU in the Information Technology Program, was actually thinking of the dog when he decided to enroll her in a 10-week training course for service animals last year. The Masonic Association of Service and Therapy Dogs certifies dogs to work with children and adults in hospitals, veteran organizations, domestic violence shelters and crisis sites.

The jobs were few and far between, prompting Hyzny to seek other social outlets for the dog he rescued from Chicago PAWS at eight weeks old. The library at GSU, where he teaches five classes a week, was a natural choice of location to help stressed students and faculty.

“The therapeutic benefits are so many, from reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and a decrease in levels of stress,’’ said Professor Maristela Zell, who developed and coordinates the Holistic Social Work Practice. “It is a win-win situation for both, humans and pets.”
Hyzny wins because, “I get to bring my dog to work.”

Alexis Sarkisian, special projects manager for the university library, said Sandy is a big draw. 

“Our plan is to help students succeed, and studies show those who use the library are more successful. Sandy is bringing them in.”

Today Sandy enjoys 30 to 40 so-called regulars each week.

KT O’Loughlin, a second year student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, comes every week on her way to study group.

O’Loughlin was having an especially hard day and visited Sandy with a friend. Sandy greeted the friend, and then abruptly turned to O’Loughlin and started nuzzling her. “It just made me feel so good. It’s like she knew I was the one who needed her that week.”

Dog and owner spend two-and-one-half hours as greeters, and then take a walk outside before going to a CISCO network certification class, where Hyzny lectures and Sandy relaxes. On the way out, Sandy stops and greets students and visitors before a check in at the Registrar’s Office.

Cecelia Hurley, clerical extra help in the Registrar’s Office, offers Sandy treats when she jumps up on the counter.

“She de-stresses me. She adds a little fun element to the day and she’s happy to see me. How do you not respond when someone is happy to see you?”

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