Kacey Oberlander is missing her dogs back home, and she's more than a little stressed competing in the high-pressure environment at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials.
That's where Holly comes in. The adorable, 4-year-old Havanese is available for petting and furry hugs. "It just calms me down a lot," said Oberlander, who swims for York YMCA in Pennsylvania and will be attending the University of Alabama in the fall. "It's nice to see the happy puppy dogs running around when everything is so intense and everyone's so serious. The dogs are very happy all the time. It makes me calm." Yep, these Olympic trials have gone to the dogs - and the athletes are loving it.
USA Swimming, in an effort to ease some of the anxiety accompanying such a major meet, has partnered with Domesti-PUPS - a nonprofit organization based in Lincoln, Nebraska, that is providing four-legged companions for the athletes lounge at CenturyLink Center.
Given their gentle, soothing nature, "therapy dogs" have become more and more familiar around hospitals, retirement homes, hospice centers and disaster areas. They've provided comfort to veterans and those suffering from autism. They've even done time in prisons, nudging inmates along the road to rehabilitation.There are more than 1,700 swimmers in Omaha, most of whom have no chance of qualifying for the Olympics.
"This is the first time we've ever done it," said Weinberg, the program and services manager for USA Swimming. "I'm an animal lover myself, and I was trying to think of different ways in the athlete lounge that they would calm down and kind of just relax and have fun. I like dogs, I thought about dogs, and it just kind of evolved into therapy dogs."
Four dogs at a time work in three-hour shifts - some rotating through during the morning preliminaries, others stopping by for the evening finals. They even have their own security credentials, complete with a photo.