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Non-Lawyer to Lawyer: Dog-lending at Yale Law? Not a top-tier idea

By DIANA SMITH, Staff Writer

 

diana.smith@nc.lawyersweekly.com

 

Pretty much everyone knows I’m a dog girl.

SmithNot the I-love-all-canines-so-much-I’m-going-to-adopt-10-million-of-them type of woman, but I’m definitely of the mind that my Labradors are members of the family. I guard them as fiercely as I do any human being I love.

In fact, I can remember only one period in my life when I went without Labs for an extended period of time – my three years of dorm living in college. I’m unashamed to admit that I slept with a stuffed Lab and couldn’t wait for breaks so that I could return to North Carolina for a desperately needed fix from our family’s two fuzzballs, Teddy and Eight Ball. Their goofy faces were like a drug to me, providing relief from whatever homesickness I felt from being hundreds of miles away during the semesters.

So when I read a New York Times article which reported that Yale Law School began a test program last week that will allow stressed-out students the opportunity to “check out” a therapy dog from the library, my initial reaction was, “Man, if I ever went to law school, I’d go to Yale!”

“Good luck getting in,” came the cheeky reply from an officemate. Not taking the bait, I then relayed my discovery that Monty, a border terrier, would be available to students in 30-minute increments each day.

I would have loved this program during college. How awesome would it have been for me to take a dog to the park across the street from my university for some pats and kisses, and maybe even throw a Frisbee or tennis ball?

But after a few moments reflection, I realized that I really, really, really don’t like the Yale idea.

Obviously I’m a case study in the capacity of dogs to relieve stress. And I truly believe in therapy dog programs. I constantly see the power our Labs can yield in elating my brother, who is permanently disabled from a brain injury. 

Here’s what I don’t like about Yale’s dog-lending program: There’s no way to know how the frazzled law student will actually treat Monty.

Does he or she know leash etiquette? How were they raised to treat animals? I struggle to hold my tongue when I see some owner jerk on an excited dog’s collar or speak so harshly that it cringes in fear.

And no matter how hard the law students try, they won’t be able to use the Socratic method to teach Monty new tricks. But I’ll bet you my last nickel that some idiot will think he’s the Dog Whisperer and will spend his half-hour trying to make Monty do something he can’t.

Granted, I know that anyone who wants time with Monty is undoubtedly a dog lover and would likely be focused on his best interests. Plus, Yale Law didn’t publicize any particular parameters about how visitation would be conducted (i.e., Monty can only be played with in X, Y or Z locations, etc.), so they may very well have this whole thing structured so well that the dog will be perfectly safe at all times.

So let’s assume the ideal scenario described above was indeed true, and that Monty was in wonderful hands throughout the three-day trial run of the program.

My next question is why the law school feels it needs a therapy dog program in the first place.

I’m sure Yale’s classes are as demanding and rigorous as all top-tier schools claim to be. But something tells me that it’s more than looking out for students’ well-being that’s motivating this idea.

It’s marketing. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s darn good marketing at that. 

Look at how immediately I “oohed” and “ahhed” over the novelty of Monty. Do a Google search and see how many news outlets jumped on the story once the announcement went public.

And – if you can get past the New York Times’ new paywall – look at how Yale craftily decided to not reveal what type of breed Monty was at first.

Talk about building intrigue. The first question any dog nut/potential law student would have asked is what type of canine they’d be borrowing – and they probably hung onto that Yale pamphlet until they found out.

In this current climate that has prospective 1Ls begging law schools for transparency about what to expect in the future, Monty has become the latest pawn.

Both he and those future lawyers deserve better than that. 

Editor’s note: Smith is a staff writer at North ­Carolina Lawyers Weekly and editor of Carolina Paralegal News. She is a graduate of Loyola University in New Orleans and the University of Virginia.

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