Professor Carole Pomarico sat waiting in the Egan School of Nursing conference room with a table filled with two big files of papers with comments from former and current students, pictures, research information and newspaper clippings from both The Fairfield Mirror and other national publications. However, the topic of those files and news articles was not centered on Professor Pomarico or on the days on which she was giving classes in the old nursing building.
They were focused on her eight-year-old dog and Fairfield University sensation, Dakota.
“Well I was doing a lot of research about college students and how students are stressed out and how animals help them, especially dogs, and so I brought the idea to my Dean and I asked her permission to bring my dog to the Egan School … and she said yes,” explained the professor as to what where the origins of Dakota at Fairfield University.
The 2008 recipient of the Florence Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing went further and highlighted how Dakota “knew what to do” once she got to the nursing building.
“She got into the elevator, went into the classes, greeted students; she just knew what to do.”
Initially, Dakota got certified as an emotional support dog to support her new role in the nursing community. Still, as it became more clear to Pomarico that Dakota was a dog with a purpose, she proceeded to get her certified as a therapy dog and a Canine Good Citizen, certifications that her dog holds since 2018. Once that happened, “she became the dog of the Egan School.”
Meredith Wallace Kazer, Ph.D., APRN-BC, FAAN, Dean of the Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies, echoed the comments of Professor Pomarico in a separate statement, saying that “we couldn’t have known the impact she would have” when Dakota arrived years ago.
“Over the subsequent years, watching students lay next to Dakota on the floor, seeing the smiles and comfort, the release of stress and the feelings of joy she brought to our university community, has been overwhelming,” said Kazer. “We are beyond grateful that Dakota found her way to Fairfield.”
Despite being associated with the Nursing school and having her “home” in the Dean’s office, Dakota has impacted Fairfield University students throughout the entire campus. An example of this has been with her visits to the Animal Lovers Club, the DiMenna-Nyselius Library and most recently, she was part of the Wellness Center booth for StagGiving Day.
For students, having a therapy dog has been a great addition to campus. As documented by Professor Pomarico, Dakota’s presence can make anyone’s day.
One student who filled out her “a dose of Dakota means to me …” feedback paper, said “[Dakota] is everything that is sweet and soft in the world. I love to see her and rub her behind her ears.”
The same student also added to her statement that Dakota “has a calming presence.”
Another student that also completed Pomarico’s paper shared that “a reason I chose Fairfield was because Dakota is part of the Egan family.”
At past events where Dakota was present, students have told Pomarcio that they wished their respective schools and departments had a therapy dog. However, Dakota is for now the only therapy dog approved by the University to interact with students as bringing other therapy dogs to campus is a lengthy and multi-step process for the owner and the university.
Dakota, a pioneer dog on campus whose tenure at Fairfield started in 2015, has definitely impacted students and also her owner’s life.
“Makes me feel great; I love it,” exclaimed Pomarico when asked how she feels about her dog pioneering the therapy pet program at Fairfield and the impact that it has had on students. “I think that if I’ve brought happiness and calmness and helped students adjust to college life and any personal issues they were having … it just brings me so much joy.”
Pomarico, a retired professor from the Egan School of Nursing, also described the interactions that Dakota has had with students over the years. “It is wonderful to me to see students who appear to be stressed and as soon as they see the dog they start to smile. You can’t help it! You know, she comes at you and smiles, and moves her tail … students exude excitement, happiness and calm. They smile.”
Dakota, a dog who “does her thing” and was “meant to be” a therapy dog, is without a doubt one of the living reminders that Fairfield is a university centered around the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis and that there are faculty and staff members who go out of their way and job description to create an environment suitable for all students.