‘Su-paw star’ therapy dog honoured with university degree!
A Salvation Army therapy dog in the United Kingdom has been awarded an honorary ‘dog-torate’ in recognition of his services to students’ wellbeing.
Brengle, the ‘Su-paw star’ Golden Retriever, is a regular visitor to Teesside University with his owner, Middlesbrough Corps Officer Captain Naomi Kelly, as part of the chaplaincy service.
Brengle is a famous face on the campus, which is located next to the corps, offering support to students who may be struggling with stress or mental health issues. In what is thought to be the first ‘honorary dog-torate’ in the country, Brengle was awarded the accolade by Teesside University’s Sarah Bishop, Assistant Director of Student and Library Services, to mark University Mental Health Day on 9 March.
“I couldn’t quite believe it when I got the message to say that Brengle was being recognised in this way!” said Naomi. “It’s amazing because he has impacted people’s lives in such a positive way, so it’s nice that the university wants to honour that and that it’s recognised as a valuable ministry.”
As a chaplain at the university, Naomi spends a few hours every Friday on campus.
“People who don’t want to talk to people will talk to dogs, so Brengle helps open up conversations; he is a stepping stone,” she explained. “A lot of students say they are stressed but feel better being with him, which gives me the chance to ask what it is that is making them feel stressed.
“It could be the stress of everyday life, which most of us experience, but we don’t think to talk to people about it. Just asking somebody, ‘How is your day?’, can help. Sometimes I can tell people really are not okay and then I signpost them to other services. We do it because we are part of a religious service, and the students are open to that.
“Brengle also gets requests. We’ve been asked to support students as they come out of their exams. We also offered support to a cohort when one of their friends died.”
Sarah Bishop said: “Often students are away from home for the first time, sometimes in a foreign country, and could be dealing with things like exam pressures, money issues or relationship breakdown.
“It is vital, therefore, that students know that the university is there to help them and can offer support. Brengle does a fantastic job, encouraging people to engage with our support services and providing them with love and reassurance.
“When you see him walking around campus, you see people point and smile, they enjoy him being here.
“We’re delighted to create this special honour for him; he’s a worthy recipient.”
Brengle’s name is a nod to Samuel Logan Brengle, who was a commissioner in The Salvation Army during founder William Booth’s time and taught a lot about holiness.
“The Salvation Army is a charity, but first and foremost we are a church, so Brengle’s name is a nice connection to that and can help open up the conversation about The Salvation Army,” said Naomi. “It’s really important that the therapy dog work is linked to Kingdom work.”
You can follow Brengle on Facebook by searching Brengle Therapy Dog. Middlesbrough Salvation Army runs other programs in the community including a drop-in for people who are homeless and vulnerable, a debt advice service, an eco-supermarket and a charity shop.