These are difficult times on so many levels, I don’t think we can let this week pass without taking note of the bold leadership of Yale Law School, in this as in so many aspects of progressive and innovative legal education, with its new check-out-a-dog-from-the-Law-Library service for law students. (Faculty apparently are not eligible, or at least not paying attention – see article below). [Footnote also below.]
One (OK, I) can’t help wondering if spending half an hour with a dog you have no relationship or responsibility for will either build affective competence (I know, the rent-a-dog program is extra-curricular, but then, so were clinics in the beginning) or provide frantic law students with the desired sense of perspective on the comparative importance of grades and exams. As an ailurophile myself, however, I’m undoubtedly the wrong person to summatively assess this concept. (No cat would put up with such random encounters; if you were lucky, a rent-a-cat might deign to sleep on your nice warm computer, but hardly condescend to play or cuddle – certainly not on-demand with all comers.)
Yale does seem to be in the vanguard here; no other law schools are identified as offering rent-a-pets, but inquiring minds would like to know if your law school does. While I for one am not positive that we want to accustom lawyers to finding solace and regeneration quite this way, advocating the half-hour pause to refresh – in some way other than Facebook or Halo — definitely seems salutary and instructive. A half hour is too short for the classic serious exercise break involving changing clothes and showers – maybe one could get in some light yoga or tai chi at most — but should law schools suggest and try to facilitate, say, a chat or walk with another human being, even a fellow student, as opposed to a dog? Or provide a game room for a quick set of Bananagrams or ping-pong or Crazy Eights? Or a mini-kitchen/mini-studio where students (and faculty) could spend twenty minutes baking some cookies or making a sandwich (as opposed to the stress of standing on line for cafeteria food), or work on a water-color or play a piano . . . I’m guessing quite a few schools do offer meaningful mini-respite opportunities and facilities, probably at no more cost than Yale’s new mascot, and it’d be interesting to know what they are. I see another faculty committee on the horizon: the Restorative Recreation Committee!
In light of the NYT’s new paywall policy, and since it is not egregiously long, here is a fair-use selection of excerpts from the article describing the program:
March 21, 2011
For Law Students With Everything, Dog Therapy for Stress
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
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Yale Law School, renowned for competitiveness and its Supreme Court justices, is embarking on a pilot program next week in which students can check out a “therapy dog” named Monty along with the library’s collection of more than one million books.
While the law school is saying little so far about its dog-lending program, it has distributed a memo to students with the basics: that Monty will be available at the circulation desk to stressed-out students for 30 minutes at a time beginning Monday, for a three-day trial run.
“It is well documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being,” Blair Kauffman, the law librarian, wrote in an e-mail to students.
The school is not saying what sort of dog Monty is; what happens to him when school is out of session; or how Monty himself may be kept from becoming overstressed with all his play dates.
* * * *
Monty, according to the memo to students, is hypoallergenic and will be kept in a nonpublic space inside the library, presumably away from those who don’t much like dogs.
“We will need your feedback and comments to help us decide if this will be a permanent ongoing program available during stressful periods of the semester, for example, during examinations,” the note to students reads.
* * * *
Yale Law School has kept its dog-lending plan so quiet that some faculty members were not even aware of it.
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1. As far as I can tell from the article (having not made independent inquiry of Yale), no animal-rights advocates have given the program their imprimatur; I need to check my colleague David Cassuto’s Animal Blawg (http://animalblawg.wordpress.com/) to see whether concerns have been expressed. Spending day after day of sequential half-hours soothing and reassuring overwrought law students does seem to skirt the verge of cruelty. (Oh no, that can’t be right, that’s what WE do . . .) I presume the program’s been approved by the Yale University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, although it doesn’t seem to publicly list approved protocols (no kidding!), so can’t be sure about that.
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