Spring 2018

The Cure for the Common Desk Lunch

Tufts Paws for People employs therapy animals as motivators to get employees—and others—to exercise more during business hours.

By Genevieve Rajewski

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Photo: Alonso Nichols

After Irish wolfhound Einstein passed the 22-part skills and aptitude test to become a registered therapy dog and a member of the Tufts Paws for People animal-visitation group, his human companion, Professor Lisa Freeman, couldn’t wait to get him out working.

Because the still-growing rescue dog is big and clumsy, he’s not a great fit for working with elders or kids, said Freeman, J86, V91, N96, who has volunteered for Paws for People for ten years and serves on its board of directors. Fortunately, a few volunteers from Tufts Paws for People recently had attended a conference run by Pet Partners, the national therapy animal organization of which Paws for People is a community partner, and learned of the new Walk With Me program, developed in response to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action about walking for better health.

The program, which employs therapy animals as motivators to get employees—and others—to exercise more during business hours, seemed made to order for Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist who works with her colleagues at the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction to study how pets can help people lose weight and get healthy. It also lined up well with Einstein’s natural abilities. (“Even when I come home at night and just want to sit on the couch, he motivates me to go outside for a walk,” said Freeman.)

Last October 20, Freeman and Einstein began leading weekly Friday lunchtime walks around Tufts’ Grafton campus—with Distinguished Professor Emerita Susan Cotter bringing along her Paws for People registered Boston terrier, Brady. “We started out with about ten students, faculty, and staff walking with us, but kept pulling in others as we were walking along,” Freeman said. “It was a beautiful fall day, and we had a great time.”

While Grafton’s rolling vistas seem made for strolling, the program will soon add a more urban location, said Debra Gibbs, the program coordinator for Tufts Paws for People and a veterinary technician at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center. Although an official start date isn’t yet set, the program plans to soon launch Walk With Me at Tufts Medical Center for both hospital staff and Tufts medical students.

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