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Alumni Spotlight: Angela Mullally

Angela Mullally

When Angela Mullally works with special education students at Rochester's School 19 she has a new ally in calming students and diffusing situations. That help comes in the form of Blaze, a Labrador retriever therapy dog who has recently come to the school.

"I'd wanted to put together a therapy dog program for the past couple of years," said Mullally, a 2004 graduate of the School Psychology program at RIT. "This is the year I really wanted to start putting that together so I had a lot of support from my administration."

The benefits of therapy dogs are well documented. A study from the American Journal of Cardiology found that pets help the human heart adjust to stress. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology also found that a pet can provide the same level of emotional connectivity as relationship with another person.

For Mullally, Blaze and the specialized training he received has made him a great asset for interacting with students. Blaze was trained by the National Education for Assistance Dog Services, or NEADS, organization which was founded in 1976 to provide assistance dogs for deaf or disabled individuals.

"Blaze has been trained to not be afraid of anything, to know that he's safe as long as he's with me," said Mullally.

Blaze hasn't been on the job for long, beginning in early February, but he's already making an impact on student's lives. Mullally has already seen specific incidents that show the value of a therapy dog.

"Just the other day we had a student, one of our younger students, who had an episode in the classroom, was being very aggressive," said Mullally. "So they asked if I would come down to meet with him because he's already met Blaze and developed a relationship already."

Blaze came up to the boy, who was under a desk, and started licking his feet. The boy sat right up, recognized Blaze and started petting him. Within minutes the student was calm and able to return to the classroom.

"Typically this is a child that's done for the day. You can't get him to regroup; he escalates and ends up having to go home," said Mullally. "So it's amazing that Blaze has been trained so well that he can go into a situation and work with our students who have severe issues."

Mullally first identified the value and usefulness of a therapy dog when her own children were attending primary school. This sparked her curiosity and led to Blaze's involvement at School 19. Mullally's own involvement with the Rochester City School District originated from her time as an RIT student. While a graduate student in the School Psychology program, Mullally's internship with the school district turned into a full time job.

The journey at RIT was a bit different from the usual student experience at RIT for Mullally. She transferred to RIT in the middle of her second year of undergraduate education. A non-traditional student Mullally was already married with a child when she started her studies at the Institute.

"The reason that I wanted to go RIT was not only did they have a great program and they were local but my husband transferred there and we wanted our children in RIT's daycare program," said Mullally, who's second child was born as she finished up her undergraduate degree in Biology.

Once at RIT, Mullally didn't want to leave, which helped make her decision for a graduate degree program.

"I didn't even realize we had a school psychology program until my senior year and as soon as I realized that we had it right at RIT I knew that's what I wanted to do," said Mullally. "I loved the campus; I loved the feel of the kids' staff there and the community between the students and how supportive everyone is regardless of whether you're straight out of high school or you're a returning student."

Mullally graduated from RIT with a Master's in School Psychology in 2004. She returned to RIT came in 2008 when she was asked to serve as an adjunct faculty member while the department searched for a full-time professor. It's an experience that she greatly enjoyed and was glad for the opportunity to give back.

Her RIT connections are important to Mullally, who prominently displays RIT apparel and memorabilia in her office at work. A big reason for her admiration was the support of the Department of Psychology.

"As a nontraditional student, they were very supportive of the fact that there are going to be times when a secretary is going to come into the classroom to say you need to pick up your kid because she's running a temperature of 102 degrees," said Mullally. "They're very supportive of the fact that there's a lot more going on in my life that of another student."