Canine Comfort

Professor brings love for dogs into research

Published by Kayla Raynak, Date: April 15, 2024
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Eaton-Stull's therapy dog Chevy looks toward the camera. Therapy dogs are different from service dogs in that petting them is encouraged.

People often look forward to seeing therapy dogs due to the many benefits they provide. Professor Yvonne Eaton–Stull enjoys the research she gets to be a part of involving dogs.

Eaton-Stull has been teaching at SRU for about a decade. She teaches social work classes and assisted in creating the animal-assisted interventions minor.

Eaton Stull is involved in doing research with therapy dogs.

Her most recent research was completed in the fall of 2023, looking into stress, coping and resiliency in individuals who are incarcerated and how dogs affect how they feel. She is currently working on publishing an article about this.

Another area Eaton-Stull focuses on is forensic social work. She has worked with prisons and therapy dogs and focused on stress and anxiety, as well as grief groups with women and men in prison.

“As faculty we’re really able to develop our areas of interest,” Eaton–Stull said.

Eaton–Stull often focuses on bringing therapy dogs to SRU for stress-relieving events during busy times in the semester and even just times when students might need something positive in their day.

She even has her own therapy dog, which is a black lab beagle mix who is also a crisis response dog. Eaton–Stull enjoys working with her own dog a lot.

Years prior, Eaton-Stull was a director of a community mental health treatment facility and had to find a way for more clients to come to groups.

She came up with the idea of bringing therapy dogs into groups. This was her first time working with therapy dogs.

“Students are always involved in our research, I mean that’s so important,” Eaton–Stull said. “I love getting students involved.”

Last summer Eaton-Stull worked with a student to conduct a study.

She was assisted by senior Alexandra Kaufman who is a social work major with a minor in animal-assisted intervention to work to provide animal-assisted support to veterinary staff.

Even though veterinary staff are around dogs and animals all day, they are around dogs who are sick, hurting and do not want to be around them. The staff do not receive affection like people would get from therapy dogs.

Eaton–Stull and Kaufman did research measuring blood pressure and heart rate and evaluated their stress before they saw the therapy dogs and when the individual would leave.

BluePearl is an emergency vet hospital and wanted to conduct this research, so Eaton-Stull and Kaufman researched with two of their hospitals.

Kaufman has an interest in animal-assisted social work and was excited to get involved with this study.

“I would say working one on one with the professor definitely taught me a lot of my skills,” Kaufman said.

She also expressed her excitement and joy while working with Eaton–Stull.

The goal of this study is to help calm people who are involved in stressful jobs like dealing with hurt animals and to see how animal-assisted support can help individuals. 

The individual had to stay at least 10 minutes with the therapy dogs and were able to evaluate their stress level which was reduced after spending time with the dogs.

The experiment lasted from June to August.

Kaufman really enjoys the research she got to help with and is currently training her dog Elmer to become a certified therapy dog.

“Obviously I love working with dogs but really what I love is my students, I really enjoy seeing the students find research fun and valuable,” Eaton-Stull said. “It’s a way that they can see how beneficial it can be for people.”

Eaton–Stull is currently planning her next research study.

“Those of us who are animal lovers know that dogs are a big part of our lives and in social work, we really value looking at everything that’s important to a person. Considering dogs and treatment and how you help your clients is really important to my profession.” Eaton–Stull said. “So, I like seeing it evolve and being able to contribute to the knowledge.”

Kaufman is currently doing an internship with Butler County Children and Youth Services.

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