CALEDONIA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Davenport University campus safety team has a new member: Onyx the therapy dog.

Her handler says he saw a need for more mental health support for students, particularly since the start of the pandemic, and thought a therapy dog could be part of the solution.

Onyx, a therapy dog at Davenport University. (May 2023)
Onyx, a therapy dog at Davenport University. (May 2023)

“(The pandemic) was really the turning point for mental health and bringing awareness to it, especially in a college level,” Brett Windsor from Davenport University Public Safety said. “Students today really have that unique experience of going across the state, across the country to go to college. So being able to just kind of provide them something that makes them feel like they’re at home or is just able to ease their experience helps them just feel more at ease.”

The university says it has seen a 105% increase in mental health services utilized by students since the pandemic started. The increase lines up with national trends. The 2022 COVID-19 Practitioner Impact Survey by the American Psychological Association found that demand for anxiety and depression treatment has increased by nearly 40% among people ages 13 to 25.

Having a dog on campus can help to diffuse difficult situations.

“So on one of the councils that we sit on for West Michigan, a lot of the other school districts in the area … have just expressed wanting to do this. We’ve had really great feedback from them and especially hearing about the program, they would love to start one up soon,” Windsor said.

Onyx is on her own educational journey, too. She has already undergone a year and a half of training through Paws With A Cause. She must still complete 18 weeks with her handler and another eight weeks with the assistant handlers.

Onyx works Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., primarily on the university’s W.A. Lettinga Main Campus off Kraft Avenue SW in Caledonia Township, where she often lends a paw at the new Wellness Center. She also will occasionally visit Davenport’s other five campuses to work with students and attend events.

Friends can visit Onyx’s Instagram, K9_Onyx, to get involved and follow her work around campus.