April Fools Edition | Oakland Critters replace therapy dogs in mass firing


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

A recently fired therapy dog who said his life is now “without purpose.” He wishes to remain anonymous.

By Colm Slevin, Senior Staff Writer

Oreo, a Pitt therapy dog, expressed distress after finding out he could no longer work in the Cathedral of Learning.

“It’s been so tough recently, losing my job and all,” Oreo, a border collie, said. “I no longer have a way to support my family, and the kids need to go to college.”

Oreo’s story is unfortunately shared by many of his coworkers. Pitt fired all the dogs in the Therapy Dog program on Friday. Faced with budget issues, Pitt made the decision to replace the trained therapy dogs with stray animals from South Oakland.

Not all in the community are happy, since many dogs relied on this job. Oreo used to help many students through exams, breakups or a weird bump that they’re not sure if they should get checked out. Yet, Oreo feels all the good he’s done was for nothing. Now Oreo is without a job and facing numerous hardships.

“There’s not a lot of respect for the softer dogs in other fields,” Oreo said. “‘Beware of the Dog?’ I’m nothing to be afraid of. And my smell’s no good, so I can’t work with the drug-sniffers.”

Many of the other therapy dogs formerly part of the program share Oreo’s struggles. Max, a beagle, has also dealt with hardship because of his “softer side.” Max had to work longer hours at a dog training facility in order to help his two sons train as therapy dogs.

“They don’t understand us,” Max said. “I’ve always wanted to help people. And I can’t do that anymore. I feel unappreciated and undervalued.”

Some of the upset therapy dogs have been discussing unionizing to get their jobs back and earn higher wages. While these talks have yet to shape into action, many therapy dogs who were employed have been attempting to meet a permanent conservator family. Oreo is 6 years old and said his age has made finding a family harder. 

“I might have to find someone to take me in,” Oreo said. “But it’s hard for an older dog like me — my back is bad and I’m not as energetic anymore.”

While Oreo dreams of a brighter future, many Pitt students are divided on the topic. Some students who were originally disappointed about the canine’s departure now find the stray animals more comforting. Joe Schmo, a junior economics major, said he enjoys the “edge” of the strays and feels they’re cooler than the dogs.

“I’m a bit of an alpha myself, so we get along in that way — me and the raccoons,” Schmo said. “Sometimes they nibble and it hurts, but that’s how they show their love.”

A recently hired therapy critter.
(Image via Wikimedia Commons )

Racoons aren’t the only new pet to help soothe anxiety and lift student’s spirits. There’s three stray cats, multiple mice and a handful of squirrels now employed by the program. While student participation has decreased, there are some students, like Schmo, who still frequent these animals for comfort.

“I feel like this is somewhere I am welcomed, somewhere I can really be myself,” Schmo said. “I never knew how much I needed something like this. Just hearing the noise in a calm environment is really nice. Now when I hear racoons in my garbage it helps me calm down.”

While Schmo sleeps better at night, some other students are horrified by the therapy critters. Students who oppose this replacement cite health codes, safety, cruelty and a slew of other arguments. Annie Male, a sophomore biology major, said she couldn’t sleep the night she learned about the replacement.

“These are wild animals that are not safe to be around. How can Pitt get away with this?” Male said. “This is deranged.”

While some of these animals are a little erratic, so far no students have received any major injuries. The stray animals appear to be getting along with students at a safe distance. Male said she feels as though the switch is inhumane to the animals.

“They’re not even much more expensive, that’s the crazy part,” Male said. “It’s just that the strays are free and it’s an insane solution to save money. But if this is what I have to do to get some of these dogs back, I’m willing to work my tail off.”

While Male works hard to see the dogs come back, Schmo encourages students to embrace change and open their hearts to these animals.

“If you kicked them out, where would these creatures go? Back to the street where you wouldn’t want the dogs?” Schmo said. “We need to make room in our hearts and in our lives. I hope we can accept and embrace the world as a changing and imperfect place. These animals need love too, something they’ve long neglected.”

All dog quotes are translated by Bunny of @whataboutbunny on TikTok. We are grateful and thank Bunny for her help with this article.