UMB Honors Service Dogs with ‘Dogtorate’ Degrees

The Paws to Honor ceremony brings awareness to the animals’ work alongside three of the University’s recent graduates.

December 14, 2023 | Jen Badie

Make no bones about it: These dogs are a breed apart.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) honored therapy and service dogs during Paws to Honor: UMB Service and Therapy Dog Awareness Day on June 13 in which “dogtorate” degrees were “confurred” on the companions of three recent graduates: University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Caroline Benzel, MD ’23, and therapy dog Loki; University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s Paola Urbistondo-Jimenez, PharmD ’23, and service dog Kylo Red; and University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law’s Courtney Bergan, JD ’23, and service dog Kiera.

While other universities have honored service dogs alongside their humans during commencement ceremonies, including Seton Hall University in May, UMB’s ceremony is believed to be one of the first in the U.S. to be held separately by a university to honor the companions who accompany students to class and offer comfort to patients at hospitals and others in need.

Dressed in regalia, UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, presided over the event on the Health Sciences Research Facility III patio, giving special recognition to Benzel and her 5-year-old Rottweiler nicknamed “Dogtor” Loki, for their work at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).

In virtual therapy sessions with UMMC front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Benzel noticed the wear and tear that personal protection equipment was causing. She started Dogtor Loki’s Hero Healing Kits, distributing much-needed supplies such as lotion, powder, Vaseline, lip balm, instant coffee, and tea to front-line workers, with Loki as the face of the effort. Loki and Benzel, who raised over $100,000, have received numerous awards for their work, including the American Kennel Club Paw of Courage Award and the American Rottweiler Club Heroism Award.

“After seeing the impact of Dogtor Loki and Dr. Benzel, the University of Maryland Medical Center expanded its therapy dog program,” Jarrell said. “Loki has clearly had a tremendous impact on people’s lives, and this wouldn’t have been possible without her friend, Dr. Benzel.”

Jarrell then asked Loki, who was wearing her doctor’s coat and a mortarboard, for her paw to present her with the Dogtorate of Medicine and also awarded her a special medal.

Read more and see photos and video at UMB News

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