Winona State’s famous K9 relieves student stress
Sara Tiradossi / Winonan
At a time of the semester when deadlines are quickly approaching and students find themselves wrapping up their classes, Winona State University provides a chance to relax with a furry friend.
Winston, a therapy dog, is trained to provide affection and comfort, according to Winona State Counselor and Winston’s handler Lynda Brzezinski.
Brzezinski has led “Wednesdays with Winston” for four years, ever since Winston was one-year- old.
At first, Brzezinski said she used to lead a support group. Then she realized the drop-in with Winston worked well among students.
She said research on how therapy dogs work to reduce stress levels shows they can benefit college students.
“When individuals interact with an animal, there is the love hormone [that] is released,” she said. “There are both mental and physical health benefits to it.”
To be certified as a therapy dog, Brzezinski said a dog has to be at least one-year-old and be able to demonstrate they can sit, walk nicely, stay, shake and perform other basic obedience requirements. The dog has to be social and trainable as well.
She said she has seen a lot of participation and interest from students over the years. The number of students attending the event ranges from 30 students on one Wednesday, to three students the following week.
Brzezinski said Winston started as a therapy dog at a young age because dogs become emotionally mature at the age of three. It takes a lot of work for him to interact with people, whereas older dogs are slower and calmer, she said.
“I do have to organize my schedule in a way that he does not get too exhausted,” she said. “He needs a lot of breaks.”
At the March 22nd session, Winston moved around the room as students were taking turns to pet him. Students were smiling and relaxing, and sharing stories with each other about the dogs they own at home.
Student Bailey Masselnann has not missed one “Wednesdays with Winston” since the beginning of the semester.
“Winston is a big stress reliever. I have a dog and a cat at home, so he helps me to find that connection with my pets,” Masselnann said.
Besides the drop in Wednesdays, Brzezinski said sometimes Winston spends a couple days in her office to support students. The week before finals she also helps to coordinate “Pause to Distress” and hopes to expand the event this year with more activities involving dogs and maybe a miniature horse, she said.
In the future, she said she hopes to train another therapy dog when Winston is ready to retire and will not be comfortable as a stress reliever anymore. She said she believes her plan will work out if she provides the certification and the university trusts she would follow the rules the same way she did with Winston.
“It took me three years to get permission, but he has shown that it’s really successful,” she said. “He’s a little campus celebrity.”
By Sara Tiradossi