Westphal Wellness Dog brings a healing touch to Drexel
Jonquille visits the Drexel Climbers. Photo credit: Jennifer Morley.
“Throughout the pandemic, I recognized 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 remove an essential mode of communication between people and communities,” said Jennifer Morley, also known as “Jmo”, associate professor and coordinator of the minor in somatics of the dance program of Drexel University at the Antoinette Westphal. College of Media Arts and Design. “These themes emerged in the Drexel yoga, dance and Pilates communities.”
Also the director of the Drexel Pilates studio and the Drexel Pilates training program, and an expert in mind-body centering practices in the field, Morley knew that this was not limited to dance and somatic classes alone. She wanted to do something that would restore the tactile connection as the Dragons returned to campus in the fall for Drexel’s 2021-22 academic year.
“We were entering a new landscape. Somatically, it was a time when we needed new ways to connect. I kept asking, ‘How can we bring in an element of joy, an element of well-being and an element of touch?’ “recalls Morley.
The answer came in the form of a miniature goldendoodle named Daffodil, who became the first welfare dog to be employed by a college or school (Westphal) in Drexel and began working as a Westphal Wellness Dog in autumn. Daffodil is the dragon’s new best friend, along with the three University therapy dogs, Chai, Espresso, and Java (who are employed by the Drexel Recreation Center).
Manipulative Jennifer Morley holds the daffodil during a performing arts faculty meeting. Photo credit: Jennifer Morley.
Morley adopted Daffodil in August and later certified Daffodil as an emotional support dog. Since then, they’ve been coming to campus to host in-person classes and events, in addition to 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 places on campus to run, see public art and sit down to keep a journal. Morley also runs Daffodil’s own Instagram account, @the_daffodoodle, so people can follow the dog’s journey from earning his “dogtorate” to becoming a “Ph.Doodle,” as Morley likes to put it.
“It was natural to include a welfare dog at Westphal College. There were ways she fit naturally into the fabric of the college and its values. Yoga, dance, somatic practices and the performing arts are all part of Westphal,” Morley said. “We are an experiential college. We champion the use of embodied practices as modes of creativity, self-expression and healing.
Daffodil, who was born on May 8, was chosen in part because mini goldendoodles are known for their very compassionate social dispositions.
“We had a preliminary research period. Not everyone in the community has the same reaction to animals, so we paid attention to issues of equity and cultural sensitivity. We knew she had to be hypoallergenic. And I chose a smaller breed because it’s easier to get them in and out of spaces,” Morley said. “Other than that, the goals were to improve the experience for students, faculty, staff, and the community. It was a gift to see faces light up when Daffodil entered the room.
Through Westphal Wellness’ social media platforms, campus walks, event visits and office hours, Daffodil continues to step up in his new role.
So far, Daffodil enjoys weekly loops through the URBN Center, Recreation Center (she played basketball there) and MacAlister Hall. She also does program tours — most recently, she visited first-year architecture students as they negotiated a series of very difficult reviews. Daffodil also visited the students of Westphal’s BRIDGE Scholars program at their end-of-term party and attended the final quarter’s dance finale, where she sat among the students to calm their nerves ahead of their performances.
Home base is Morley’s office at MacAlister Hall, where Daffodil has his own set up to work from. Daffodil met neighbors like the Dragons involved in the AJ Drexel Autism Institute’s Career Pathway program; she contacted students on their first day of school to talk about sensory experiences.
“It was a brilliant conversation, talking about what it’s like to touch your fur and how petting the dog can change the way we feel about our bodies,” Morley said.
Daffodil stops during a rehearsal for the Drexel Dance Ensemble. Photo credit: Jennifer Morley.
Morley was also keen to incorporate Daffodil into Drexel’s wellness spaces and student events, like this year’s Homecoming (Daffodil helped DJ), to expand its reach and learn more to share more about wellness opportunities. – be on campus. When the 13-pound dog climbed with the Dragon Climbers at the Drexel Recreation Center climbing wall, so many Dragons were thrilled to meet her that “Daffodil literally ended up crowd-surfing,” Morley joked. Unscheduled appearances, such as walking around the college town campus, can also draw crowds of students.
“Very often people see Daffodil and squat down with their arms to pet her or hug her, and that just opens up their bodies, and their faces light up, and they’re so ready to receive her,” said said Morley. “We can’t go into each other’s personal spaces like this right now, because of the pandemic. It has been remarkably healing to watch this great physical moment of joy happen again and again and again.
Dragons can also follow Daffodil’s adventures online. The videos so far have mostly focused on Daffodil’s exploration of wellness spaces, but Morley is already thinking about other content to feature, like interviews with Dragons about what they’re doing on campus to improve their well-being. With two terms completed, Morley is also looking to continue the best practices learned along the way – with plenty of opportunities for Daffodil to still make new friends.
“I think the doors are open, and it’s more about paying attention to what has value, streamlining it and making it replicable. I work to weave his work into the fabric of what we do here with an integrity that reflects our values at Westphal College and Drexel,” Morley said. “I look forward to continuing to partner with Daffodil to showcase myself in service to the community.”