Who’s good and golden and known all over Doane’s Crete campus? Ase, the three-year-old, English Cream Golden Retriever and therapy dog.
The only “bad-boy” behavior he exhibits are random burps – which are quickly excused because, I mean, look at his face. He’s a welcome distraction for students from the stressors of college life.
“Usually when people see Ase on campus it’s immediately, ‘Oh there’s Ase!’ A lot of times students kind of ignore the fact that I’m also there,” chuckles Raegan Bartholomew, PLMHP, a mental health counselor on Crete’s campus and Ase’s owner. “I know that he brings just a lot of excitement to campus and a lot of newness, if you will.”
The duo barely stepped foot in the Tiger Den before students chorused “Ase!” and ran up to Raegan with brightened, widened eyes to ask if they could pet Ase.
Raegan said the relationship between Ase and Doane students is mutual. Ase enjoys it as much – if not more thanks to the behind-the-ear scratches and back pats – than the students. He takes his job seriously, though.
Once Raegan places the emerald green vest – which don the words “therapy dog” and “ask to pet me, I’m friendly” – on Ase’s back, he knows it’s time to work, she said.
His day-to-day duties entail accompanying Raegan everywhere. When they’re out and about on the Crete campus, Ase trots alongside her. When students approach him he’s calm and obedient – his tail dripping with golden hair strands wags in acknowledgement and approval of the attention.
Ase’s other responsibilities look different this year because counseling sessions themselves are different this year. The Counseling Center considered maintaining in-person sessions and abiding by the COVID-related campus-wide mask mandate.
“Unfortunately, that gets in the way of me understanding facial expression and emotion and things like that,” Raegan said. “And I also want my clients to be able to see my face and my expressions.”
For the time being, the counselors do telehealth (holding counseling sessions over a secure video chat). Raegan said Ase tends to nap during her sessions. That would change when they switch back to in-person meetups.
Ase’s behavior would then depend on the student and their comfortability level with dogs and males. Usually, Ase will lay on the floor between Raegan and the student. The student can interact with and pet Ase if they want. At times, he will put his head on a student’s knees.
Ase’s healing presence was evident from the moment Raegan picked him as a puppy from the litter. Raegan learned that Ase would sit on the lap of his breeder’s grandma who had recently lost her husband.
“She was petting Ase as a way to just calm herself and provide some healing to her very fragile heart at the time,” Raegan remembers.
His demeanor is why Raegan named him “Ase” as it means “healer” in Scandinavian.
Dogs have always been more than a four-legged friend for her. They are a two-eared, non-judgmental listener. A provider of unconditional love. Her experience with dogs inspired her to pass on the positivity through a therapy dog.
“I think the best way that dogs have helped me growing up was having someone safe to talk to,” Raegan says. “If you think about talking to your mom about something or your dad, or a cousin or friend, you can always get feedback or response from that person. But if you need just that nice, kind of clean slate and someone just to talk to about whatever and not have any judgment or any pushback on what you're saying, a dog is a really great place to share some of those thoughts.”
With his empathetic nature, Ase was the right pup for the job – especially since he’s a male.
That was an intentional decision, Raegan said, as she’s worked with female clients in the past who have difficulties trusting males.
“Yes, he is a dog – he’s not necessarily a human,” Raegan says. “But at the same time, I think sometimes it’s easier to start to trust something that’s loving and open and caring with you.”
For other students, Ase’s presence reminds them of their dog back home they’re missing, or it helps them feel comfortable around dogs again after a previous traumatic experience.
Ase offers more than just his presence, though. Like Raegan, he’s had to pass classes before becoming certified in his current position.
Raegan started her undergraduate career at Concordia University and transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in December 2015. In 2017, she started the Masters of Arts in Counseling program at Doane University – which was around the same time she got Ase.
As she finished her studies to earn her master’s degree, she also trained Ase. He learned basic commands like sit, stay and lay down as a puppy. He worked his way through classes, including a canine good citizens class – a prerequisite for therapy dog training. COVID-19 interrupted Ase’s classes, but Raegan continued training him for his therapy dog test.
Part one of the test graded Ase on specific measures like how he approaches someone in a wheelchair and how he reacts to people fighting in front of him. He passed part one in September 2020. Part two involved a live test at Scheels in front of a proctor who not only watched Ase, but Raegan, too.
“When they test therapy dogs, they don't just test the dog, they actually test the team. And so Ase and I would be considered a team” Raegan says. “My husband, for example, couldn't have Ase as a therapy dog because he's not [certified as] Ase’s handler.”
Raegan wears an emerald green lanyard around her neck to match Ase’s vest. This denotes her as Ase’s handler as a therapy dog.
As much as Ase is a therapy dog for students, he’s been by Raegan’s side as she’s handled events in her own life.
“The specific ways in which Ase has helped me is kind of immeasurable,” she says. “[...] Some day when Ase passes, a piece of me will go with him just because of how much healing he's provided to me among the years.”
We most certainly cannot end a dog story on such a sad note, though.
Which is why you should know that Ase knows how to let loose when he’s off duty. At home when the vest is off he’s “crazy, rambunctious Ase.” He loves to run around and play with Raegan and her husband Sean’s two other dogs, Murphy and Isabelle.
Because all work and no play makes Ase a dull boy. And Ase is a very, very good boy.