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Scene at MIT: Puppy love

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Graduate student Stephanie Ku holds her dog, Wingnut, at an MIT Puppy Lab event on an unusually warm October afternoon. Ku is founder of the Puppy Lab, which launched in May as part of MIT's MindHandHeart Initiative.

Photo: Denis Paiste

Members of the MIT Puppy Lab brought their puppy love to the portico of Building 10 with unseasonably warm temperatures near 80 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

Puppy Lab founder Stephanie Ku ’14, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, says the dogs were an instant success when Puppy Lab launched in May: “The first day, we were in the Lobby 10 Green Room, as I call it, and the temperature rose by like 5 to 10 degrees because there were so many people,” Ku says. “That’s not ideal in one way because no one wants to be in a crowded environment — you can barely touch the dogs — but at the same time, it’s an awesome thing because it shows us that there is a high demand and people were really interested.”

When Ku got her own dog, Wingnut, last year, she began to think about how students miss their dogs at home and find to be very helpful the MIT Libraries' Furry First Fridays, as well as therapy dogs brought in around finals. “MIT’s a hard place, and we all know that, but we all love it as well, and we just want to make sure that we support the students who are here, and the staff and faculty, because they also have stress,” Ku says.

“I thought it might be nice to have dogs more consistently available and to try to reach out to the dog community that’s already at MIT instead of relying on external therapy dog organizations,” she explains.

Around the same time, the MIT MindHandHeart Initiative was seeking grant proposals for campus wellness activities, and Ku’s plan for the Puppy Lab was supported with a $1,000 award. “MindHandHeart has also provided moral support and any kind of support that I really need if I run into a problem with logistics or with publicity,” Ku says.

Ku worked with MIT librarian Ellen Finnie, who is an instructor with the therapy group Dog B.O.N.E.S., to get eight new dogs certified as therapy dogs for the spring launch. “She’s been really vital in that process,” Ku says. “So right now we’re kind of in parallel programs: The Furry First Fridays program still runs on the first Friday of the month, and Puppy Lab does its own weekly programs on Wednesdays.”

Based on a survey she conducted, Ku says, “It seems like Puppy Lab is something a lot of people really wanted and really appreciate. I’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback overall.” Next, she’d like to make the Puppy Lab an official student group.

Submitted by: Denis Paiste/Materials Processing Center

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