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UCI Center for Student Health and Wellness Hosts Virtual Therapy Pet Thursdays

The UCI Center for Student Health and Wellness Promotion hosted a session featuring different therapy animals to encourage students to relax in an interactive environment on Jan. 14. The event was coordinated by Natalie D’Azzo, a Wellness and Peer Education Programs Manager.

“Our department started virtual Therapy Pet Thursdays at the beginning of the quarantine last spring quarter as a way to continue to share therapy dogs with the UCI community since everyone loves them,” D’Azzo said. “We also wanted to invite everyone to introduce their own pets and create a community space for conversation and connection.”

She said that the department’s goal was to “bring light-hearted fun to the UCI community” through “cute animals” during the “challenging time of the pandemic.”

The first person to present was Michelle Simpson, UCI alum and current volunteer with GO TEAM Therapy Dogs. Simpson introduced her dog, Cha Cha, an 8 year old brindle boxer-Mastiff mix rescue from the Huntington Beach animal shelter. As a therapy dog, Cha Cha has attended many cancer runs, charitable fundraisers and volunteer activities throughout the community. 

Michelle and her dog Cha Cha “have been on the team over 5 years and in that time have worked with libraries to promote reading, participated in cancer fundraising events and visited nursing homes for memory care along with attending UCI events with the dorms during final exam times and now these Therapy pet Thursday’s during the stay-at-home period.” 

Next, GO TEAM volunteer, Ginny Mcvoy, presented her two therapy dogs. Her black poodle, Beau, is a retired therapy dog who contains a rare, multi-colored gene that causes his chest to appear the color white, while the rest of his exterior is black. This gene often causes people to refer to him as a party poodle. She also introduced Coco, a small, brown poodle who is a current therapy dog with GO TEAM. Coco is known for her huge, fluffy ears and has served as a therapy dog for three years. 

Erika Paul, a regular participant of Therapy Pet Thursdays, introduced her two cats Rufus and Sylvester. Rufus (RuRu) is characterized by his brown and white exterior, light turquoise eyes, and his heart shaped nose. Sylvester’s (Silly) coat is a black and white exterior, much like a tuxedo, and is nicknamed Silly for his funny, engaging personality. 

To conclude the event, D’Azzo introduced Merlin, a 12-year old cat, who she said “cannot live without her.” She described his personality evolving over quarantine into a “needy, bossy cat” who begs Natalie to feed her around nine times a day. During the event, Merlin enjoyed a nap towards the rear of the picture. 

The session wrapped up with an interactive view of Nicole Butteling’s dog Gidgett and an invitation for other people in the audience to portray pictures of their therapy animals. Third-year psychology major Carter Morrison shared his cat Bianca, and regular Therapy Pet Thursday participant Evie Anderson shared her two guinea pigs, Emma and Foxy, with the event attendees. The next Therapy Pet Thursday event will be held on Jan. 28; attendees can register here. The featured animals are viewable online in action at goteamdogs.org.

James Huston is a Campus News Intern for the Winter 2021 Quarter. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu