Oreo, a Pitt therapy dog, expressed his distress after discovering he could no longer work in the Cathedral of Learning.
“It’s been so tough lately, losing my job and everything,” said Oreo, a border collie. “I no longer have any means of supporting my family and the children have to go to university.”
The Oreo story is sadly shared by many of his colleagues. Pitt fired all dogs from the Therapy Dog program on Friday. Faced with budget issues, Pitt made the decision to replace therapy dogs trained with stray animals from South Oakland.
Not everyone in the community is happy, as many dogs relied on this job. Oreo used to help many students pass exams, breaks or a weird bump that they don’t know if they should be examined. Yet Oreo feels like all the good it’s done has gone for nothing. Now Oreo is unemployed and facing many difficulties.
“There’s not a lot of respect for softer dogs in other areas,” Oreo said. “‘Beware of the Dog?’ I have nothing to fear. my smell is not good, so I can’t work with the drug sniffers.
Many other therapy dogs that were once part of the program share Oreo’s struggles. Max, a beagle, also faced difficulties due to his “softer side”. Max had to work longer hours at a dog training center to help his two sons train as therapy dogs.
“They don’t understand us,” Max said. “I’ve always wanted to help people. And I can’t do this anymore. I feel misunderstood and undervalued.
Some of the upset therapy dogs discussed unionizing to get their jobs back and earn higher wages. Although those talks have yet to materialize, many of the therapy dogs who have been employed have attempted to meet with a family of permanent curators. Oreo is 6 years old and says his age has made finding a family more difficult.
“I might have to find someone to take me in,” Oreo said. “But it’s hard for an older dog like me – my back is bad and I’m not as energetic anymore.”
As Oreo dreams of a brighter future, many Pitt students are divided on the subject. Some students who were initially disappointed with the dog’s departure now find the strays more comforting. Joe Schmo, a young economics student, said he enjoyed the “edge” of strays and feels they are cooler than dogs.
“I’m a bit of an alpha myself, so we get along that way — me and the raccoons,” Schmo said. “Sometimes they nibble and it hurts, but that’s how they show their love.”
Raccoons aren’t the only new pet to help soothe anxiety and lift the minds of the students. There are three stray cats, several mice and a handful of squirrels now employed by the program. Although student participation has declined, some students, like Schmo, still frequent these animals for comfort.
“I feel like it’s a place where I’m welcome, a place where I can really be myself,” Schmo said. “I never knew how badly I needed something like this. Just hearing the noise in a quiet environment is really nice. Now when I hear raccoons in my trash cans, it helps me calm down.
While Schmo sleeps better at night, some other students are horrified by the therapy creatures. Students who oppose this replacement cite health codes, safety, cruelty and a host of other arguments. Sophomore biology student Annie Male said she couldn’t sleep the night she learned about the replacement.
“These are wild animals that are not safe. How can Pitt get away with this? said the male. “It’s disturbed.”
Although some of these animals are a bit erratic, so far no student has suffered serious injuries. Stray animals seem to get along with students from a safe distance. Male said she felt the switch was inhumane to animals.
“They’re not even that much more expensive, that’s the craziest part,” Male said. “It’s just that the strays are free and it’s an insane solution to save money. But if that’s what I need to do to get some of these dogs back, I’m willing to work my tail off.
While Male works hard to see the dogs return, Schmo encourages the students to embrace change and open their hearts to these animals.
“If you hunted them, where would these creatures go? Back on the street where you wouldn’t want the dogs? Schmo said. “We need to make room in our hearts and in our lives. I hope we can accept and embrace the world as a changing and imperfect place. These animals also need love, which they have long neglected.
All dog quotes are translated by Bunny of @whataboutbunny on TikTok. We are grateful and thank Bunny for her help with this article.