The cute, affectionate puppies that bound onto campus at the end of each quarter provide a delightful form of stress relief for students battling finals week meltdowns. But it has recently been revealed that these poor pups are suffering some serious PPTSD (Puppy Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) after being exposed to squealing college students for several hours.
At first, it was assumed the pups benefitted from the excess attention of students, but it now appears that the attention levels they received were skyrocketing to damaging altitudes. The dogs that were involved in the Therapy Fluffies program exhibited odd signs after the ordeal; for instance, many of them began to react strangely to college-age individuals. The very sight of a skateboard sent them running in the other direction, seeing a belly shirt or snapback stopped them dead in their tracks and hearing words like “doe,” “hashtag” or “swag” caused them to whine uncontrollably.
Dr. Dick Sacha of the University of California, Riverside Pet Therapy Program described these panicky reactions as PPTSD flashbacks. “The dogs see something that reminds them of their experience and they become agitated,” he declared. “They may be transported back to the terrifying moment, when all sorts of hands were turning their faces for pictures, all forms of students were using baby-voices to speak to them and torrents of bodies kept pouring toward them when they just wanted to take a dog nap.”
The pups also exhibited an odd symptom in which they would retreat from very specific noises, like “aww” or “ohh.” Dr. Sacha explained to me why this was. “The ‘awww’ of a college-age woman has a very particular pitch,” he clarified. “Too much of this sound will unnerve the dog and an extremely excessive amount of this sound may cause the dog to develop an aversion to any sounds with the same pitch.”
I was unfortunate enough to witness the puppies in their state of post-traumatic stress when I entered the Puppy Therapy Facility in Riverside to interview Sacha. Here, the pups were fidgety, restless and easily provoked by anything college-related. My presence set off a chain reaction of intense canine panic, and all of them shied away from me in fear, detecting my level of education and age through their highly perceptible sense of smell. It was heart-breaking to see the pups in so much horror at the mere sight (and smell) of me.
These dogs have really experienced a traumatic ordeal, a fact made painfully evident by their reaction to someone as harmless and kind as me. But, there is still hope. Steps are being taken to recondition the dogs to be able to trust college students again. To accomplish this, the puppies are undergoing intensive puppy therapy at the Riverside Puppy Recovery Center. Their therapy involves bringing in articles that will remind the dog of college students (headphones, backpacks, laptops etc.) and teaching the dog that these things are harmless. Once the pup is used to these items, they will be ready to be exposed to actual college students and will learn to trust them through engagement.
I witnessed a trial run of this treatment with Chug the pug, an adorably smoosh-faced pup that was experiencing a specific form of PPTSD. His picture was tweeted, Instagrammed, and Facebooked so much during the Therapy Fluffies event that he developed an irrational fear of iPhones. To help him recover, trained puppy specialists created an Instagram for Chug and accumulated several followers for him. To reinforce the benefits of the feared device, these specialists took photos of Chug and posted them, then showed Chug all the likes he was accumulating! This surge of popularity and validation was meant to make Chug feel more comfortable with the Apple product. Only time will tell if Chug will embrace this new social media community and be able to overcome his fear.
“It appears the cuteness of these dogs was their downfall,” puppy therapist and trainer, Dana Ratchet, said. “It’s understandable, though. Often, I have to suppress my own impulse to squeeze their adorable faces. College students have even less of a capacity to control themselves around puppies, especially cute ones like those in the Therapy Fluffies program. It’s just hard to have such adorable puppies in the same vicinity as puppy-crazed students.”
After this year took its toll on the mental health of the puppies, the program is being re-evaluated. It is speculated that next year, the Therapy Fluffies will indeed return, but with dogs that are of a lower caliber of cuteness. However, all of this is still being discussed by puppy therapists across the country. For now, we simply hope for a swift recovery for all of our UCR Therapy Fluffies.