Dogs are incredible animals. They are our companions, our protectors, and, for some, service dogs trained to help with everyday tasks. They often do this with little recognition. The University of Maryland, Baltimore is changing that.
UMB is the first university in the U.S. to hold a special, separate “commencement” ceremony where graduates’ service therapy dogs receive “dogtorate” degrees. "The Paws to Honor: UMB Service and Therapy Dog Awareness Day" on June 13 honored service dogs for their commitment to helping their student handlers get through their college years while providing comfort to others along the way.
In a June 13, 2023 ceremony, UMB awarded “dogtorate” degrees to three therapy dogs and their human companions. The recipients were:
School of Medicine student Caroline Benzel, MD ’23, and therapy dog Loki
School of Pharmacy student Paola Urbistondo-Jimenez, PharmD ’23, and service dog Kylo Red
Francis King Carey School of Law student Courtney Bergan, JD ’23, and service dog Kiera.
“Today, we honor the service animals who assist our incredible students, patients, and the UMB community,” stated UMB President Bruce Jarrell, who presided over the event.
“Dogtor” Loki was recognized for helping front-line workers during the pandemic.
Jarrell gave a special shout-out to Benzel and Loki, her 5-year-old Rottweiler. At the ceremony, Loki wore a white doctor’s coat with her nickname “Dogtor” Loki on the back.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Benzel and Loki supported their fellow front-line workers by providing them with Dogtor Loki’s Hero Healing Kits to help with the “wear and tear” of the personal protection equipment. The duo raised over $100,000 to create and distribute the kits.
Loki also comforted Benzel’s patients at the University of Maryland Medical Center. In one particular instance, the “Dogtor” spent six hours with her head on the lap of a woman who was alone by her dying mother’s bedside.
UM Medical Center expanded its therapy dog program.
After seeing Benzel and Loki's impact on patients, the Medical Center expanded its therapy dog programs, Jarrell said at the ceremony. The UMMC therapy dog program now has nine teams.
Jarrell presented Loki with a Dogtorate of Medicine and a special medal for her work.
“Loki has clearly had a tremendous impact on people’s lives, and this wouldn’t have been possible without her friend, Dr. Benzel,” Jarrell said.
Kylo Red and Kiera received dogtorates in pharmacy and law.
Kylo Red, a 3-year-old Goldendoodle therapy dog for UMB School of Pharmacy student Paola Urbistondo-Jimenez, received a Dogtorate of Pharmacy. The dog accompanied Urbistondo-Jimenez to classes, exams, and experimental learning at UMB.
“It’s nice to have these kinds of events that show disabilities don’t stop you and don’t define you, and we have tools like dogs to help us through it,” Urbistondo-Jimenez told a UMB reporter. “I was able to have him throughout my journey and all the acceptance throughout the whole campus.”
Kiera, the 6-year-old labradoodle service dog for law student Courtney Bergan, received a Juris Dogtorate. Bergan has had Kiera for five years, and the dog was trained on campus.
“It was nice to have an opportunity for her to get acknowledged for all her hard work,” Bergan told a UMB reporter.