Emmett the therapy dog is ready to get back on the job

August 2, 2021


The campus celebrity greeting visitors at the new Well-Being Center doesn’t judge anyone. He comforts, he cuddles, he even gives hugs — with permission. Emmett, a fluffy sweet-tempered 90-pound goldendoodle, spent his first semester as a therapy dog offering students unconditional love.

“I get tickled because it takes me longer to get to and from work. So many people stop and want to get a selfie with Emmett,” said his owner, Kathy Harvel, a registered nurse at the Student Health Center. “Any time he sees a person, he thinks they’re on the University of Richmond campus to see him.” Which, to be fair, is increasingly true.

He started coming to campus last semester and quickly became a star.

“I’ve had a lot of students who tell me, ‘I leave early for class because I want to run by the Well-Being Center and get my Emmett fix,” Harvel said. “Another student said, ‘I’m really uncomfortable with dogs, but I wanted to let you know that Emmett’s the only dog I pet.’”

Kaitlin Jones, health promotion assistant at the Well-Being Center, oversees building operations, manages Emmett’s schedule, and supervises his student handlers. When he’s not with a handler doing rounds or on a walk, he can be found behind the front desk. Around noon he takes a well-earned nap in his crate, and every third Wednesday he goes to the groomer.

Many students say Emmett reminds them of their canine family members back home. “He has a calming presence,” Jones said. “If you do have a bad day, you can come visit Emmett and he’ll make it a little bit brighter.”

He’s always been a good boy, but now the 3-year-old has proof: A blue ribbon for passing his canine good citizenship training hangs in Harvel’s kitchen, confirmation that he gets along with people, other dogs, and wasn’t fazed when testers moved furniture around nearby.

After that, Harvel took Emmett for more training and therapy dog certification. Testers observed him in real time over three sessions at nursing facilities. In a way, he’d come full circle. Harvel first considered having a therapy dog several years ago, when her father was in assisted living prior to his passing.  

“My dad was very ill, and the therapy dogs were coming in,” she remembered. “It was such a huge treat for him.” Around Mother’s Day in 2018, she adopted 10-week-old Emmett. From the start, Emmett’s easy-going personality made him a welcome visitor for Harvel’s dad.

Serendipitously, a few months later, associate vice president of health and well-being Tom Roberts talked with Harvel about having a therapy dog at the new Well-Being Center. Following training, Emmett accompanied Harvel to work for several days as a trial run. He passed.

The summer slowdown has Emmett eager for the fall semester. He kept looking around for students in June, wondering why so few were walking by, Harvel said. In July, he kept following her to the front door in the mornings, ready to go despite being off work.

Not to worry — Emmett still has plenty going on. He hangs out at home with a Labrador mix, a large cat, plus kids who are 10 and 17, and their friends, Harvel said. Their yard is large and fenced in. He enjoyed going swimming. There’s also a two-week training to refresh his leash skills before returning to campus. 

Jones looks forward to getting Emmett involved in more health and wellness programs. “We had an event for the summer,” she said. “He’ll let you put anything on him, like a pair of sunglasses. And he’s like, ‘Alright, I look cool.’”