There’s one member of the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) team who doesn’t say much – and sometimes falls asleep during sessions – but is highly effective when it comes to getting students to share their feelings.
Luna Rego uses touch therapy, as well as deep, soulful looks into the eyes of those she is helping. She isn’t bashful about bestowing a kiss or two when the spirit moves her either. Her warm cuddles are likely to be in high demand now as students readjust following the upheaval caused by Hurricane Ian. CAPS has many other resources listed online to help students; office hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and appointments can be made at 239-590-7950.
The 2-year-old pug was born, it seems, to be a therapy dog. Luna has been involved in the CAPS program since she was a mere pup, and COVID-19 had cleared the FGCU campus of virtually all students.
“Everyone else was home, but the CAPS counselors were here,” says Julie Rego, CAPS assistant director and Luna’s owner. “She’s been here since she was 3 months old. I’d see someone in crisis and Luna would assist. She grew up here.”
Despite her youth, she is a confident worker, handling group and individual counseling sessions with aplomb. Whether it’s crisis counseling or grief therapy, having Luna there makes it better and more effective, Rego says.
Some forms of trauma therapy “can be overwhelming, but she helps clients stay present,” she says. “She will sit beside them, put a paw on them, intermittently make them laugh.”
The placid pug seems to accept the fact that everyone wants a piece of her. At the Re-New You event held on the campus’ Great Lawn in September, the little beige and brown dog was completely at ease under the Luna-themed tent the CAPS team set up with her bed, two fans and a baby pool to keep her cool.
A steady stream of students clamored to pet her while others created “paw-sitive” affirmation books with sayings such as “Luna reminds you to treat yourself” and “Self-care is an important part of living a healthy life.”
Periodically, Rego would drive her out into the crowd in her trademark black and white golf cart – complete with her likeness on the hood with “Pug Life” painted across her sunglasses and a “Therapy Dog” plate on the front.
Junior Andrea Basabe, a psychology major from Kissimmee, stopped by to pet Luna.
Asked how she felt after spending a few minutes with the dog, she says, “I was going to class feeling just OK. Now I feel relaxed. If I was in a group therapy session, I’d definitely feel more comfortable, more relaxed, with her there.”
Her reaction falls right in line with studies like one done at Washington State University in 2019 that show that simply petting a therapy animal for several minutes can relieve stress and anxiety.
That Luna has a devoted following is indisputable. Rego says when booking appointments, students often request that she take part in the sessions. Others drop by CAPS on the third floor of the Student and Community Counseling Center just to pet her.
She’s even on social media.
“Sometimes students aren’t comfortable asking therapists questions,” Rego says. “They can write a question and have it answered through social media on Ask Luna. She’s pictured there on her golf cart.”
For those who wonder if this little dynamo is being exploited, fear not: She gets paid in pets and treats and only works two days a week. The rest of the time she’s home in air-conditioned comfort with her baby brother, Bear, a black pug.
“Her reward is being with people,” Rego says. “She loves the attention. All she wants is to be with somebody. Sessions are 45 or 50 minutes. She’ll fall asleep and they’ll continue to pet her. She’s even working when she’s snoring. They love the snoring.”