CPHS Professor Dr. Christi Williams Plans to Launch Canine Companions Program at Belmont

Therapy dog visits Belmont's campus
College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences

CPHS Professor Dr. Christi Williams Plans to Launch Canine Companions Program at Belmont

May 7, 2024 | by Clara LoCricchio

At Belmont, professors are not just educators, but catalysts for change and community building. College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Associate Professor Dr. Christi Williams embodies this spirit as she prepares to launch the Canine Companions Collegiate Puppy Raising Program at Belmont, an initiative that promises to enrich the lives of students, healthcare providers and the broader community through the transformative impact of service dogs.  

For Williams, the journey to bringing service dogs onto a college campus began with a simple, lifelong aspiration to raise a service dog of her own. Upon transitioning from being a full-time physical therapist to a full-time professor at Belmont, she was able to pursue this goal.  

“I started looking more into the service dog process,” Williams shared, “and that’s when I discovered what a therapy dog was. It’s your own pet, and you train them to be able to go into different settings.” 

Her own dog, a lovable labrador named Layla, made the perfect candidate. After going through training, Williams and Layla began volunteering, and the experience was life-changing.  

“I was blown away by the impact,” she said, noting the profound effect Layla had not only on patients but also on healthcare providers and families. 

Williams and Layla volunteered at Vanderbilt's Neuro Intensive Care Unit where they initially interacted only with healthcare providers to provide stress breaks. The impact of these brief interactions was remarkable. “I saw how interacting with Layla changed them, and how it carried over to their patient care,” Williams shared. 

Beyond the immediate impact on individuals, Williams observed how therapy dogs broke down barriers within healthcare settings. “One day, I saw a neurosurgeon sitting on the floor with a staff member and a nurse. That just doesn’t happen,” she said.  

Dr. Williams and LaylaIn 2022, Williams authored "Healthcare Heroes: How Therapy Dogs Change Lives!" The book highlights the incredible benefits these four-legged heroes bring to individuals, families and various healthcare settings. All proceeds from the book are donated to therapy dog organizations. 

Her passion for service and her desire to educate future healthcare providers about therapy and service dogs have led her to organize events where therapy dogs visit Belmont’s campus, along with her latest venture — bringing the Canine Companions Collegiate Puppy Raising Program to Belmont. 

The program, which operates on several college campuses nationwide, gives students the opportunity to raise and train a service dog before it’s matched with an individual in need. Puppies are placed with puppy raisers at eight weeks old and spend the first year and a half with the puppy raiser before being returned to a Canine Companions training center to be matched with their forever home.  

Initially, the program will operate under Belmont’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and eventually expand to include all Belmont students, allowing them to participate as either puppy raisers or puppy sitters, and will focus on raising awareness and fundraising for the program. 

Through this initiative, Williams is not only fulfilling a personal dream but also creating an opportunity for students to engage with the community in a unique and impactful way.   

By fostering an environment where students and dogs come together to make a difference, Williams is helping to build a future where compassion, empathy and joy are at the forefront of healthcare and community service.  

The Canine Companions program promises to be a win-win for everyone involved — students, the Belmont community and those who will benefit from the love and service of these extraordinary dogs.