Westphal Wellness Dog Provides a Touch of Healing at Drexel
“Throughout the pandemic, I was recognizing themes in students’ reflective writing, articulating experiences of isolation, and many of them were in spaces devoid of tactile feedback. When you remove touch, you’re removing an essential mode of communication between people and communities,” said Jennifer Morley, who also goes by “Jmo,” associate teaching professor and coordinator of the somatics minor in Drexel University’s dance program in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. “These themes were emerging in the Drexel yoga, dance and Pilates communities alike.”
Also the director of both the Drexel Pilates studio and the Drexel Pilates Training Program, and an expert on mind-body centering practices in the field, Morley knew this wasn’t confined to just the dance and somatics courses. She wanted to do something that would reclaim tactile connection as Dragons returned to campus in the fall for Drexel’s 2021–2022 academic year.
“We were entering a new landscape. From the somatics perspective, this was a moment when we needed to have new ways of connecting. I kept asking, ‘How can we bring an element of joy, an element of wellness and an element of touch?’” Morley remembered.
The answer came in the form of a miniature goldendoodle named Daffodil, who became the first wellness dog to be employed by an individual college or school (Westphal) at Drexel and started working as the Westphal Wellness Dog in the fall. Daffodil is the newest Dragon’s best friend, along with the University’s three therapy dogs, Chai, Espresso and Java (who are employed through the Drexel Recreation Center).
Morley adopted Daffodil in August, and later certified Daffodil as an emotional support dog. Since then, they have been coming to campus to enliven in-person classes and events, on top of their social media work.
Morley films Wellness Minute videos for Westphal’s Instagram account featuring Daffodil exploring wellness — from the importance of self-care (Daffodil went to the spa!) to identifying spots on campus to run around, see public art and sit down to journal. Morley also maintains Daffodil’s own Instagram account, @the_daffodoodle, so people can follow the dog’s journey toward earning her “dogtorate” to be a “Ph.Doodle,” as Morley likes to say.
“It was natural to integrate a wellness dog into the Westphal College. There were ways she fit naturally into the fabric of the college and its values. Yoga, dance, somatic practices and performing arts are all part of Westphal,” said Morley. “We are an experiential college. We champion the use of embodied practices as modes of creativity, self-expression and healing.”
Daffodil, who was born May 8, was chosen in part because mini goldendoodles are known for their very compassionate social dispositions.
“We had a period of preliminary research. Not all community members have the same response to animals, so we turned our attention to matters of equity and cultural sensitivity. We knew she needed to be hypoallergenic. And I chose a smaller breed because it is easier to transition her in and out of spaces,” said Morley. “Other than that, the goals were to improve the student, faculty, staff and community experience. It has been a gift to watch faces light up as Daffodil walks into the room.”
Through the Westphal Wellness social media platforms, the walks around campus, the event visits and the office hours, Daffodil continues to step up in her new role.
So far, Daffodil enjoys weekly loops through the URBN Center, the Recreation Center (she’s played basketball there), and MacAlister Hall. She also does program visits — most recently, she visited first-year architecture students as they negotiated a really challenging round of critiques. Daffodil also visited students from Westphal’s BRIDGE Scholars Program in their end-of-term de-stress party and attended last term’s dance final, where she sat among the students to calm their nerves prior to their performances.
Home base is Morley’s office in MacAlister Hall, where Daffodil has her own setup to work. Daffodil has met neighbors like the Dragons involved with the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s Career Pathway’s program; she connected with the students on their first day of school to talk about sensory experiences.
“That was a brilliant conversation, talking about what it is like to touch her fur and how petting the dog can change the way that we feel in our bodies,” Morley said.
Morley has also made a point to bring Daffodil into Drexel’s wellness spaces and student events, like this year’s Homecoming (Daffodil helped DJ), to broaden her reach and learn more to share more about wellness opportunities on campus. When the 13-pound dog climbed with the Dragon Climbers at the Drexel Recreation Center’s rock-climbing wall, so many Dragons were excited to meet her that “Daffodil literally ended up crowd surfing,” Morley joked. Unscheduled appearances, like walking around the University City Campus, can also attract crowds of students.
“So very often, people see Daffodil and crouch down with their arms out to pet or to hug, and that just opens their bodies, and their faces light up, and they’re so ready to receive her,” said Morley. “We can’t get into each other’s personal spaces like that right now, because of the pandemic. It’s been remarkably healing to watch that big physical moment of joy happen again and again and again.”
Dragons can follow Daffodil’s adventures online, too. So far, the videos have mostly been about Daffodil’s exploration of wellness spaces, but Morley’s already thinking about other content to feature, like interviews with Dragons about what they do on campus to improve their wellness. With two terms down, Morley’s also looking to continue the best practices learned along the way — with a lot of opportunity for Daffodil to always make new friends.
“I think the doors are open, and it’s more about paying attention to what’s of value, streamlining it, and making it repeatable. I’m working to integrate her work into the fabric of what we do here with an integrity that’s reflective of our values in the Westphal College and at Drexel,” said Morley. “I look forward to continuing to partner with Daffodil to show up in service to the community.”