Paws for Love: Pryntzka visits with medical students

UNC School of Medicine students were greeted by a furry friend during Wednesday’s lunch break at the Beach Café, as Pryntzka, a certified therapy dog, planted himself outside the cafeteria. Rita Kuwahara, a second-year medical student, brought Pryntzka to the Beach to ease the stress students are facing from schoolwork and exams.

Paws for Love: Pryntzka visits with medical students click to enlarge Pryntzka taking a break.
Paws for Love: Pryntzka visits with medical students click to enlarge Rita Kuwahara and Pryntzka

“Saying a quick hello to Prynztka was a high point of my day,” said Robyn Levine, a first-year medical student.

Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and comfort to those in need of emotional support. Playing with them, petting them and communicating with them can serve as therapeutic solutions to people dealing with serious stress or grief.

Kuwahara adopted Pryntzka approximately five years ago from the Durham County Animal Shelter after he’d been given up by his previous owner. According to Kuwahara, Pryntzka had been abused.

“When we got him, he had a really good temperament, so I thought he’d be great for therapy,” she said.

Because she knew she would be studying medicine in the future and understood how helpful therapeutic dogs can be for patients, she decided to have Pryntzka officially trained by the organization Therapy Dogs International.

Pryntzka’s training to become a therapy dog took a total 18 to 24 months. The process began with initial obedience training, and later Pryntzka took a Canine Good Citizen Test, in which his behavior and comfort were tested in a variety of situations.

“A lot of the training that went into it was to get him used to being in different health care settings and get him used to being around different people,” said Kuwahara.

The exposure included meeting with kids, having sirens approach him from behind, and getting him comfortable with putting his head in the laps of patients in wheel chairs and hospital beds.

At the end of the training, Pryntzka took high-level obedience and temperament tests.

“Because he had such a rough past, the petting gives him as much therapy as it gives the patients,” she said.

Abigail Liberty, a first-year medical student, was surprised to find that Pryntzka not only worked with hospital patients and families but also worked with medical students.

“When I reflect on my classmates this year, I realized that a lot of us have gotten animal companions,” she said. “Pryntzka was a good reminder that our pets can help others as well as ourselves.”

Pryntzka’s presence on campus served as a Wellness Event sanctioned by the School of Medicine Advisory College, a program developed to foster relationships between MD students and faculty and to mentor students to be successful in their future endeavors in the medical field.

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