“Samara, who is that?” Philip Tedeschi asks his 8-year-old companion and coworker.
Her whole body wagging, the smiling black lab immediately turns my way and places her head in my lap, staring at me with her soulful eyes. Immediately I feel at ease, brightened by her sweet presence. That’s oxytocin flooding my brain, says Tedeschi, a faculty member in the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work, and it’s all Samara’s doing.
“Interacting with a safe dog changes the neurobiology of a person’s brain and their own physiology. So, somebody literally can become more approachable, more talkative, trusting, more optimistic. They can reevaluate me as the therapist by having that animal with me,” Tedeschi explains. “With somebody who doesn’t trust people, is shut down and rarely can communicate with people individually, all of a sudden they’re now able to have
In her time assisting Tedeschi, Samara has trafficked in plenty of oxytocin. Now, after years of service to the DU and Denver communities, she’s retiring. Over the years, she’s helped build bridges with people experiencing homelessness, and she’s created a safe space for people recovering from trauma. She’s also worked alongside social work students in hundreds of classes, training them in the classroom and the field. During the pandemic, she provided comfort to DU students experiencing COVID quarantines and first-year jitters.
She’ll now spend her days like any true Coloradan—hiking, enjoying her country home, taking dips in mountain lakes and visiting with other creatures. Plus, she’s helping to train Tedeschi’s newest therapy dog, Juniper.
She’s the perfect teacher for the new recruit and a powerful advocate for the important role animals play in our lives. “Samara’s really the best I’ve ever known as a co-therapist,” Tedeschi says. “She really does care about people, and it’s very humbling to be in the presence of a spirit that’s that good at that. In many ways, it’s taught me a lot about ways I could be a better person and a better social worker, too.”