At any given time, we all appreciate the unconditional affection, softness and friendliness of a dog. Something about an animal, particularly a dog, just puts people at ease.

In an attempt to make the work environment a little less stressful, Lucas, a two-year-old yellow Labradoodle, has joined the Health Sciences Center as a certified visitation dog, and he is here to brighten up everyone’s day!

If you see him in the hallways, you can get some pet therapy with cuddles, selfies or by just enjoying his fluffy coat and relaxed demeanor. He is like a little, huggable bear.

Lucas was fostered by Erin Barthelmess, a student in the School of Pharmacy before making the transition to his new handlers, Kim Helmick and Cassandra Stacy. He was provided by the Hearts of Gold organization and received his training in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. He will split his time between the health science’s vice president’s office and the School of Medicine’s M.D. program student services office.

“Lucas is here to offer comfort, emotional support and to help with stress relief for students, staff and faculty in all the health sciences professional schools,” Cassandra said. “He is here to spread happiness!”

Both Kim and Cassandra participated in an eight-week training program to become visitation dog handlers.

“We worked with him a few times when we were in class, and he basically trained us,” Kim said. “I mainly want people to know that they can come and pet him. He is great dog, he loves his new job, he loves the attention and loves the people.”

The Hearts of Gold Organization primarily trains dogs for mobility assistance, but they also train therapy dogs and have a special program focused on training post-traumatic stress disorder service dogs for veterans. Dogs from the Hearts of Gold program have been matched and placed with clients across the country.

Visitation or facility dogs receive extensive training but have a completely different type of job from service dogs. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological support to individuals other than their handlers, who are usually their owners. These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easygoing personalities.

To become certified, they must complete a training course and pass a series of tests to guarantee they meet the qualifications and finally earn their blue cape.

“The ability to adapt to different situations, noises and people are of prime importance for these dogs,” Cassandra said. “They have to display a good temperament; they cannot show any type of aggression or bark at people.”

WVU currently has seven visitation dogs on campus. These dogs are available to students, faculty and staff for stress relief and emotional support. They will be wearing a blue vest. When you see them, please feel free to pet them. There are also several service dogs and service dogs in training on campus. These dogs wear red vests. Please do not interact with these dogs without first asking permission from the dog's handler.

For more information on Lucas, including scheduling a visit, contact or

Get to know Lucas through this video and follow him on his journey on Facebook at


Tara Scatterday
WVU School of Medicine
Director, Communication and Marketing