First-year Mel Thomas pets Bandit, a therapy dog.
First-year Mel Thomas pets Bandit, a therapy dog.

By Abby Weingarten
What’s the antidote to anxiety at midterm season? Snuggly pups, of course.
Lucky for New College students, pet therapy dogs Bandit and Vixen came to the rescue in Jane Bancroft Cook Library last week, welcoming a plethora of kisses, lap sessions and belly rubs. The 7-year-old miniature pinscher/chihuahua and 11-year-old longhaired chihuahua were just what the doctor ordered.
“I’m very much an animal person, and it’s so nice to have such a positive experience with animals,” said New College first-year student Mel Thomas. “They bring so much joy.”
That’s the idea, and one that Helene Gold (the research, instruction and information literacy librarian) brought to New College when she arrived in October 2018. She arranged the first dog visit, with pups from the Humane Society of Sarasota County (HSCC) program and their trained handlers, that winter. Dogs have visited each semester during finals weeks ever since, and they will return in the fall.
“Students will say, ‘I miss my dog at home’ and tell me how much they love being around the dogs here,” Gold said. “So I’m really glad we have a space to do this.”
Bandit’s handler, Sheila Foley (also New College’s custodial coordinator), delights in watching her little pup work a room. Quite a character, Bandit is known for claiming strangers’ laps for extended periods of time, rolling over on his back for massages, and expertly modeling his blue neck bandana.
“People just love him,” Foley said with a laugh. “He’s just ‘that guy.’”
Tony Benade, who handles Vixen, is an equally proud parent.
“She just loves being with kids. She lights up around kids,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better, sweeter dog.”
And Barbara Dubreuil, New College’s coordinator of library operations, has regularly seen the impact these furry companions have made on the students: the instant mood lifts, the laughs and the love.
“It’s the best stress reliever for them this time of year,” she said.
For more information on the HSCC program, visit
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.

Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is a top-ranked public liberal arts college and the state’s Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in arts, humanities and sciences, a master’s degree program in applied data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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