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Therapy dog at New Mexico State wins national award

The therapy dog at New Mexico State University's counseling center received an honorable mention in September from the American Kennel Club's (AKC) Awards for Canine Excellence for the impact she has had on clients and staff at the center.



Elsa, therapy dog at New Mexico State University's counseling center, received an honorable mention from the American Kennel Club's (AKC) Awards for Canine Excellence for her impact on clients and staff at the center. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

7-year-old black Newfoundland, has come to the office in Garcia Annex with psychologist Karen Schaefer for more than three years. The staff at the counseling center nominated Elsa for the national award.



"Her presence has an indirect therapeutic effect on clients and staff," Schaefer said of Elsa. "She really opens the door for people to talk about things they normally wouldn't discuss."

Elsa has had the opportunity to help many people by attending therapy groups for survivors of sexual abuse, meeting with 12 patients a week, and accompanying Schaefer to outreach programs and class presentations.

"She affects a lot of people in a positive way," Schaefer said.

In addition to her earlier diagnosis of elbow dysplasia, Elsa was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2002, which causes joint and muscle pain, and muscle deterioration.

"She gives people hope," Schaefer said. "Clients are psychologically in pain and they see Elsa's kindred spirit shine through although she suffers physically."

In 1999, the AKC created the Awards for Canine Excellence to honor the extraordinary ways in which dogs contribute to human lives. The annual award is given to amazing dogs in law enforcement, search and rescue, therapy, service and exemplary companionship. An honoree from each category is presented with a cash award of $1000 and an engraved sterling silver collar medallion.