The ‘dog-tor’ is in!

Indigo Barkenstocks, or Indy for short, is a 9-month-old Golden Retriever that just returned from her six-week training course to become the University of South Carolina’s on-campus therapy dog.

Dog therapy sessions have become increasingly popular over the past few years as trends of anxiety and stress persist, and schools and universities are beginning to embrace the animals because of the response they elicit from students. 

Justina Siuba, Indy’s handler and the stress management program coordinator at USC’s Center for Health and Well-Being,  thinks that Indy will be a positive asset to many people.

“It helps to get them to our resources, and really breaks down some of the barriers that exist with getting people into our services,” Siuba said. “It really just helps to draw people in.”

But college students aren’t the only age group seeing positive effects from therapy dogs in school.

Drew Bryant and Sassy, his 10-year-old Golden Retriever that is a trained and certified therapy dog, are regular visitors at Lake Murray Elementary School. 

In addition to Lake Murray Elementary, Sassy also goes to two high schools in the area and comes to USC during the weeks of midterms and finals. Bryant said that the kids, especially those at the elementary school, love Sassy.

 Bryan said the children gain confidence by interacting with the dog, “so they’ll read to Sassy and then write a story about it. Or they will read with Sassy.”

Bryant chose to train Sassy as a therapy dog after seeing the devotion another therapy animal had for his father. 

“A woman came up and she had this Boxer, and I thought, ‘What’s a dog doing at my dad’s funeral?'” Bryant said. “She was a therapy dog. My dad lived in an assisted living place and they came by to see my dad all the time. The dog loved my dad, and my dad loved the dog, so that’s kind of what made us go into it.”

It’s no secret that a dog is man’s best friend, and now it’s no secret that dogs can help heal. USC students are already taking advantage of having an on-campus therapy dog. Elena Barilla, a senior at USC, said her visit with Indy was “the best ever.” 

“I’ve been having a pretty stressful day, stressful week, stressful month, stressful semester,” Barilla said. “I saw today on Twitter that Indy was going to be having office hours and I thought ‘Oh, that’s some office hours I’m excited for.’”



A USC student stops by Indy’s office hours in the Center for Health and Wellbeing last week. 

USC students gather around Indy to share some pats. Indy’s office hours began on Oct. 31.