Counselors can do a lot of things to comfort their clients. Licking their faces is not one of them. Thankfully, at Lesley, there's a dog for that.
Tally is Counseling Center Director Magi McKinnies’s 3-year-old dog, who became an unofficial staff member shortly after she was adopted in the summer of 2014. McKinnies has helped her pet fit into the Lesley community by introducing Tally to people of different ages and abilities. A criterion to be a therapy dog is "being a good citizen," something at which the docile dog clearly excels.
Magi McKinnies and Tally at Lesley's Counseling Center.
While not a big fan of crowds, Tally loves interacting with people one-on-one or in small groups, especially when there are treats involved. She is quick to roll over for a belly rub or rest her head in a friendly lap.
From day one Tally was a hit with staff and students, offering the particular comfort only a wagging tail and a warm nose can bring.
"If I jumped up next to you and licked your face, it would be weird," jokes McKinnies. "That’s something an animal gives them."
And a few minutes can work wonders. Early in Tally’s tenure at Lesley, two female students came in to the Counseling Center before a final exam for a quick, calming session with the dog. The students must have told their friends because another student came in to see Tally soon after.
"I knew she’d be a hit right away," says McKinnies. "This is exactly what I was envisioning."
Some students learned about Tally through word of mouth, but many on campus still didn’t know about the resident therapy dog. Administrative Assistant Ellen O’Neill suggested creating social media accounts for Tally.
The dog now has a Twitter account and a Facebook page. McKinnies also introduces Tally to each new class during orientation, which never fails to elicit a chorus of awwwws as the four-legged counselor takes the stage.
Tally’s fame has even attracted students to the school.
"Tally’s the reason I came here," one student told McKinnies.
Tally will see you now
While Tally doesn’t have office hours or make appointments, students are welcome to drop in to see her any time. The counselors are careful to make sure their clients who are uncomfortable with dogs or who are allergic don’t have to interact with Tally, and the pup tends to stay close to her owner, so she is unavailable while McKinnies is in a session.
Otherwise, Tally is ready and waiting when students, staff and faculty need a comforting cuddle and a friendly, furry face. Tally, a campus star, is ready for her close-up.
McKinnies saw an uptick in Tally visits following the 2016 presidential election and the transition of a new school year always brings in more students.
Though Lesley community members don’t need to be Counseling Center clients to visit Tally, McKinnies says the dog might make people more comfortable coming into the center to seek professional counseling at the center.
O’Neill has seen the effect Tally has on people, such as a student who recently came in just to sit in the common area with Tally.
"She’d clearly been upset about something, but when she came out, you could see release. It’s so nice that’s available," O’Neill says.
Although not an officially trained therapy dog, Tally also serves as a stand-in for students' own pets they left behind at home.
"It’s hard for students to leave their pets," McKinnies says. "Pets can’t text you."
She encourages parents to set up video chats with their kids and pets back home, something junior Kelsey Tucker said she does with her Rhodesian ridgeback.
As Tucker feeds Tally a treat on the quad, she talks about her own dog and talks about why she loves visiting Tally.
"I miss my puppy back home," says Tucker. "Being around animals is a comfort."