Therapy dog ‘Pepper’ a big hit during first week at ETSU

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Sometimes a wagging tail or even a lick in the face is just what’s needed to brighten someone’s day. Enter Pepper, a comfort/therapy dog who made her East Tennessee State University debut this week.

A group of students made a beeline for Pepper outside the school’s library late Wednesday morning. It was exactly the reaction ETSU Public Safety Officer Bill Mitchell hoped for and expected in the comfort/therapy dog’s first week on the job.

ETSU public safety officer Bill Mitchell and Pepper draw a crowd outside ETSU’s library Wednesday.

“The first day I had her out here everybody was coming up wanting to pet her, and they said ‘thank you, I needed that,'” Mitchell said of students. “Just spending time her giving them kisses and petting on her made them feel better. That was enough right there for me to know that this is a good thing.”

Haley Woody didn’t disagree. The graduate student walked out of the library, spent a few minutes with Pepper and proclaimed the pooch “the greatest thing on campus.

“Everyone loves dogs, and it’s just something that will make people happier when they walk out of class and just see a nice dog that they can hug and pet and love,” Woody said. “There’s not many people that wouldn’t want to pet Pepper here,” she added, leaning down to give the dog a last pat.

Captain Mark Tipton said a visit to Vanderbilt University last year gave him the idea. “A dog went running down the hallway, and I said, ‘what’s the deal here?’ They said, ‘well that’s our new comfort dog, new therapy dog that we have.'”

Pepper gets up close and personal with Haley Woody, right, and a couple other students.

Colleagues at Vanderbilt explained that the dog just goes out, “and gives loving, brings the stress down and gets petted. I thought this would be a great program for our university.”

ETSU got Pepper through the “Paws and Stripes” program in Brevard County, Fla. The program trains abandoned dogs using local jail inmates and law enforcement officers, then matches them up with agencies.

Pepper, who was found on the beach and will turn two this Saturday, turned out to be a perfect fit when Tipton and Mitchell went down to pick her up after she’d been trained for six months. “Every dog in their crate was going wild, she was laying in there calm and cool when we met her (Feb. 10) and she’s been stuck with Bill ever since,” Tipton said.

Pepper is about as chill as they come.

He said one objective was to make ETSU’s public safety officers more approachable.

“They come up, pet her, they talk to the officer and realize, he’s just like I am, he’s just got a job to do,” Tipton said. “So it makes a bond between her and the students and it makes a bond between the students and the officer.”

When Tipton, Mitchell and Pepper left a Monday morning meeting with ETSU President Brian Noland, “they were lined up in the hallways to meet her,” Tipton said. “It was very exciting, we’re very excited about this program and I just can’t wait to see where it goes.”

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