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MCLA junior Irving Mogene holding Maple, the college's comfort dog.
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Edgar Perez, left, Ian Crombie, Christopher Hantman, and Irving Mogene with Maple.

MCLA Welcomes Maple the Comfort Dog

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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MCLA senior and Student Government Association President Ian Crombie holding Maple.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts welcomed its new Trailblazer pup, Maple, donated to by Berkshire Comfort Dogs.
Maple was welcomed Wednesday, June 15, at MCLA, and Director of Counseling Services Heidi Riello said there was a clear need at the college with so many students bringing their own emotional support animals.
"In recent years, more students are coming to campus submitting documentation of a particular psychological disability that allows them to have an emotional support animal on campus," Riello said. "So more and more campuses have more and more students who are already coming to campus with cats, dogs, mice, hamsters, bearded dragons, hedgehogs. So we've seen the need in terms of students saying, 'I already have this diagnosis and I benefit from having my comfort animal that helps me manage my anxiety or it helps me manage my depression,' whatever it might be."
The college considered this addition to the MCLA family last fall when officials saw a Facebook post by the Pittsfield Police Department introducing its comfort dog, Winston.
Riello reached out to Berkshire Comfort Dogs to get the ball rolling.
Berkshire Comfort Dogs is a non-profit organization founded by the owner of Berkshire Poodles and Berkshire Dogs Unleashed Lee Kohlenberger Jr. and his family. Their goal is to place comfort dogs, free of charge, throughout Berkshire County.
The organization donated the poodle, bred to be hypo-allergenic. Berkshire Comfort Dogs trains and grooms the dog free of charge.
It also has a GoFundMe page to cover other expenses such as pet insurance. 
"A dog is donated from Berkshire poodles, which is $3,500. Then the yearly average cost of the dogs with vet bills, training and grooming is $2,000 a year," Kohlenberger said.
Luckily, Hilltown Veterinary Clinic's Dr. Sharon M. Lynch donates her time. But with the growing popularity of the non-profit, Berkshire Comfort Dogs is reaching out to other veterinary clinics in the Berkshires to donate their services. 
The only cost the recipients are responsible for is the food, bed and toys. 
The process took some time because Kohlenberger already had a substantial waiting list coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this time, MCLA had to figure out who would be best to handle the dog, and who was going to be responsible for caring for it.
Riello said Christopher Hantman, coordinator for the Office of Civic and Community Engagement was the obvious choice, especially since he has another dog named Oakley at home. 
On May 31, the college announced that it was getting a comfort dog and requested that students, faculty, staff and alumni vote on her name. Options were Juno, Maisel, and Maple. Maple won by an overwhelming margin with more than 100 people voting in favor.
Finally, the litter was born and eight weeks later, Maple was ready. Hantman was able to pick her up last week.
In the past, MCLA has held events that included animals to help reduce students' stress including the student favorite "Barn Babies." These types of events would receive a high number of participants before the pandemic. Hantman said MCLA is excited to be able to provide this new resource to its students. 
"The [Student Activities Council] does barn babies each year, which is always a huge hit, as well. So I'm sure those kinds of events will happen," Hantman said. "And we're working on more volunteer opportunities through our office with the Berkshire Humane Society and things like that. So there's been a student interest in that."
For the next year, Maple will go through three training courses. She will undergo this training alongside her litter brothers and sisters. 
"These dogs aren't trained as high as service dogs, but they're trained to much higher than emotional support animals and things like that," Kohlenberger said. 
Until she has completed her training, Hantman will be with her at events, during "Maple period," and whenever students are interacting with her. 
Following her training, students will be able to sign her out so they can interact with her without Hantman. This will open up her availability since students will not be restricted to his schedule.
Riello said they have seen major support from faculty toward this new addition and feel that this will help students' mental health especially after surviving a pandemic. 
"There's like one or two people who may not be dog people, but even they see the benefit of it for the students and the community and are on board," Hantman added. 
SGA President Ian Crombie, a senior, said Maple's presence on campus will also inform students suffering from mental health issues of the counseling and other resources that the school already offers.
"We have free therapy resources on campus, but I think a lot of students are a little afraid to take advantage of that, because they're afraid of talking to someone about how they feel. So I think having the dog would get their foot in the door a little bit. To be able to feel comfortable to go to people," Crombie said
Crombie also noted that he has felt more motivated to come into the office in the morning because he gets a chance to see her.
Maple's impact on the campus has already been felt by the orientation leaders who are on campus this summer for orientation. These students got an early introduction to Maple on Wednesday.
MCLA junior Irving Mogene stepped outside of his comfort zone and interacted with Maple despite being afraid of her at first. After Maple was passed around to his peers, he requested to hold her and received introductions on how to safely do so. As he held Maple in his arms she slept and he started to warm up to her. Although he was hesitant at first to hold her when it came time to put her down he wanted a few extra seconds. 
Mogene said that he believes Maple's presence on campus will help people go outside their comfort zone because it encourages shy students who love dogs to go up to Maple and interact with their peers who also love Maple.
MCLA is not the only school welcoming these comfort dogs to the campus. In addition to the Pittsfield Police Department, the Pittsfield Public Schools, Boys and Girls Club, and 15 other organizations have taken this leap as well. 


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By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff

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More information here.


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More information here

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