The Cure for the Common Desk Lunch

At Cummings School, a registered therapy dog is giving the campus community a reason to gather for some weekly group exercise
A large dog leadning a walking group of humans
A windswept Einstein leads the walking crew at Cummings School. Photo: Alonso Nichols
November 15, 2017

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When Irish wolfhound Einstein passed the 22-part skills and aptitude test to become a registered therapy dog and a member of the Tufts Paws for People animal-visitation group, his human companion, Professor Lisa Freeman, couldn’t wait to get him out working.

“Einstein loves everybody,” says Freeman, J86, V91, N96, a veterinarian who has volunteered for the organization with other dogs (including Penny) for 10 years and serves on its board of directors. Despite Einstein’s sweet and outgoing nature, though, the still-growing 2-year-old rescue dog is “very big and pretty clumsy, so he’s not a very good candidate for an eldercare facility or working with little kids.”

Fortunately, a few volunteers from Tufts Paws for People recently had attended a conference run by Pet Partners, the national therapy animal organization of which Paws for People is a community partner. There they learned about Pet Partners’ new Walk With Me program, developed in response to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action about walking for better health.

“We started out with about ten students, faculty, and staff walking with us, but kept pulling in others as we were walking along,” said Lisa Freeman. “It was a beautiful fall day, and we had a great time.” Photo: Alonso NicholsThe program, which employs therapy animals as motivators to get employees—and others—to exercise more during business hours, seemed made to order for Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist who works with her colleagues at Tufts Human-Animal Interaction Institute to study how pets can help people lose weight and get healthy. It also lined up well with Einstein’s natural abilities. (“Even when I come home at night and just want to sit on the couch, he motivates me to go outside for a walk,” said Freeman.)

On October 20, Freeman and Einstein began leading weekly Friday lunchtime walks around Tufts’ Grafton campus—with professor emeritus Susan Cotter bringing her Paws for People registered Boston terrier, Brady, to serve as an additional canine carrot. “We started out with about ten students, faculty, and staff walking with us, but kept pulling in others as we were walking along,” said Freeman. “It was a beautiful fall day, and we had a great time.”

Like many people, Gail Zamarchi, a senior research administrator at Cummings School, describes herself as “quite sedentary” and “usually found eating lunch in front of my computer.” But she joined the Walk with Me group because she felt motivated by the prospect of group exercise and also because “everything is better with a dog.”

While Zamarchi enjoyed visiting with the pups, she found she most appreciated the opportunity to catch up with people with whom she rarely crosses paths on campus. She said she plans to join Einstein and Brady on more walks. “I even put it on my calendar as a recurring event.”

The Cummings School community is encouraged to join the Walk With Me group every Friday at noon, weather and road conditions permitting. The group meets at the entrance to the Varis Lecture Hall and departs promptly at 12:15 p.m. for a 30-minute walk.

Genevieve Rajewski can be reached at genevieve.rajewski@tufts.edu.

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