Exposure – 11/14/2020 – TRANSCRIPT FOR MSU’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Club

Connie Rahbany

Disclaimer: The contents of this interview do not reflect the values or represent the values of  WDBM The Impact.

Interview Transcript

Connie Rahbany: Hello, and welcome to Exposure. I’m your host, Connie Rahbany, and today I’m interviewing with the Animal-Assisted Therapy Club at Michigan State University. Thank you for joining me.

Nina Biundo: Thank you for having us.

Connie Rahbany: So can I have you introduce yourselves and tell me a little bit about you.

Nina Biundo: I am Nina and I’m the president of the club.

Katie Wiessner: I’m Katie. I’m the vice president.

Rachel Biening: I’m Rachel. I’m the treasurer.

Julianna Nagy: Um, I’m Julianna and I am the events coordinator.

Nina Biundo: So we’re Animal-Assisted Therapy at Michigan state university. We’re an undergraduate club that’s focused on understanding and advocating for animal assisted therapy. And our goal is to connect MSU students, faculty, and staff, interested in animal-assisted therapy with the broader animal assisted therapy community. We expand our knowledge of animal-assisted therapy through group discussions and gain practical understandings of the techniques by hosting speakers and organizing field visits. Ultimately, we want to develop MSU as a leading source for animal-assisted therapy in Michigan and throughout the country.

Connie Rahbany: Perfect. And who can get involved with the club?

Katie Wiessner: So anybody at Michigan state can get involved. We mostly have undergraduate students, so, mostly undergraduate students can get involved.

Connie Rahbany: And what about you? How long have you been involved and what got you involved?


Nina Biundo: been involved since my freshman year at MSU, I actually suffered from a stroke just a few weeks after starting at MSU. And while I was hospitalized, I came across a lot of information on service animals that could aid victims of it and service animals that could aid victims of a variety of other diseases and traumas and illnesses. And that’s kind of what. Got me into it. And I just became really passionate about it and learning about these animals capabilities and how they can help humans. So that’s when I stumbled across animal-assisted therapy at MSU and decided to join.

Katie Wiessner: So I want to go into the medical field and, um, I’ve always loved the concept of humans, helping animals by giving them food and, um, like shelter and also like, The animal, helping the human by giving them support and like love. And then, so going into the medical field, I have always wanted to help people and, I guess kind of without realizing it animals help us every single day. And, Therapy animals and service animals can help anybody who needs them with like their love support and, everything that they do for the human. And I just thought that like joining this club could help me make an impact on people’s lives, um, through like using animals and, um, by helping like volunteering and stuff like that.

Connie Rahbany: And what about you two, Julianna or Rachel? What got you involved?

Rachel Biening:  so I got involved with animal assisted therapy because I’m a psychology major, but I went into Michigan state initially wanting to be a veterinarian. So I actually thought that that club was a great opportunity for me to combine my two biggest interests in a way that also, um, gives back to the community at MSU. And I love seeing what trained animals can do for people’s mental health. And I wanted to be able to understand their importance. Um, and I want other people to be able to do that as well. So I’ve been a member of this club since I was a freshman here. And, um, as a senior. I’m really happy that I’ve been able to watch this club grow cause it was so small just three years ago.

Julianna Nagy: Um, so I’m a little bit of a newer member to the club. I think I’ve been involved for roughly a year now. Um, and I got involved because I had met Nina our president freshman year. Um, and she always spoke very, very highly of the club. Um, and I really liked the message that it stood for and the type of message that it portrayed to other people. Um, and then I also would like to go into the medical field. And so I just thought this was a really great way to spread the message about how animals can be used, you know, to help people in the medical field for anything they really need assistance for. And so that’s why I decided to join.

Connie Rahbany: And how has the animal-assisted therapy club benefited you?

Rachel Biening: so through this club I’ve been, I’ve really benefited from, um, reaching out to, especially our founder, Amy Shelle, and, um, she has been amazing. She is the woman who uh, formed our club in 2014 and through being in this club and also on the e-board, uh, we’ve all been able to become really close to her and, uh, learn about her story and, um, just basically connect more deeply with her because she works personally with service animals. Um, so we we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons from her.

Nina Biundo: I also want to add, um, I think a lot of people have benefited from the club too, in an aspect that I feel like it provides a comfortable environment for a lot of people, um, an environment that they might not find in other clubs. Other clubs can tend to be a little bit competitive. Um, And resume building, but , one of the things that I love about our club is the fact that it does kind of provide a comfortable community to form connections with friends or to either form connections, to network with places that people might want to volunteer or work with. So overall, one of the best things that I think about the club or in a way that I’ve benefited from the most is just kind of finding a comfortable and safe place in a smaller community in such a huge community that we are in at Michigan state. So we’ve kind of formed like our own small little family within it.

Julianna Nagy: Yeah. So bouncing off a little bit about both what Rachel and Nina said. Um, I think something that I’ve personally benefited from is that I think it’s absolutely fantastic how close we’ve been able to work with our founder, Amy, um, just what she stands for and what she does for other people is so great on being the founder of dogs for Gretta. It’s just something that I’ve learned from her. It’s so much, and she’s really opened my eyes to the field of animal assisted therapy and service animals. So that’s been really awesome. Um, and then bouncing off what Nina said. I really appreciate how our club is very tight knit. And like she said, we do have a very, very comfortable atmosphere. Um, and we do work our best to stay very close with all of our members. And we’d like to gain their input on anything that we’re doing. We always make sure to include them on any decisions the club makes. Um, so it’s been really awesome. Being able to afford a tight connection with all of them.

Katie Wiessner: Yeah I think we’ve all benefited from like the friendships and, um, how like tight knit and close we’ve been with each other and, how, like our meetings, like they can be serious and we can talk about, Serious things, but we can also just talk about like what our favorite restaurants are and what we want to do, like over the weekend and stuff like that. So it’s really cool to have like, such a, um, like Nina said, like such a small little family in such like a huge school.

Connie Rahbany: And what does a typical meeting look like for you? And how often are they held?

Nina Biundo: We hold meetings bi-weekly on Wednesday nights and those can consist of anything from guest speakers to social events where we bake. Um, we have had a guest speaker this year, which was Amy Shelle, our founder, and then we’ve also done nights where we watch movies based on animal-assisted therapy stories, and also where we bake treats that animals and humans can eat. I think recently we made these balls with peanut butter. Um, they were like protein balls with peanut butter and oats and bananas in them that were safe for our pets to eat and also us. And sometimes we also have toy making events where we’ll make blankets or toys for dogs in shelters. So our meetings are pretty, um, I don’t know what the word I’m looking for is here. Like variable. Do you, can you guys think of a good word?

Rachel Biening: Yeah. There are definitely varied meetings. Uh, no meeting is exactly like the last, and I think that’s a good thing for people who have been members for several years. Uh, I feel like a big reason they come back is because we try not to make it boring. I hope we don’t make it boring. We always come up with new things and just ways for people to get involved in, in ways that they haven’t maybe before.

Julianna Nagy: And we try to find a good mix of fun meetings and informational meetings. So I know more towards the beginning of the year, we’ll always have our usual spiel where we’re explaining to everybody what exactly animal assisted therapy is and how it can benefit the world. Um, and then as the semester progresses, like we’ll set up different fundraising events and social outings and gatherings and whatnot.

Connie Rahbany: And that leads into my next question. What types of fundraisers does the club do?

Julianna Nagy: so we’re actually running a fundraiser right now, so we are doing a pasta fundraiser, um, and that’s always a pretty big one. A lot of our members like to do. In the past, we’ve worked closely with blaze pizza, right on grand river. so that’s always a fun one. Um, and then we have done toy making fundraisers where we’ll get different supplies from Michael’s and Joann’s, um, and we’ll make little dog toys, and then we can sell them at Preuss pets, which is, um, a pet store. That’s I think it’s about 15 minutes off campus. We’ve done bake sales before where we’ve made chocolate molds of different paw prints or different animals shapes that have always been a big hit as well. Um, so yeah, those are some of the fundraising things that we like to look forward to.

Connie Rahbany: And how do you feel about what the club has accomplished so far?

Nina Biundo:  I’m really proud of our growth in just the last year, um, when I first joined the club, there were about five ish members, the majority of them actually being on the e-board. And now I’d say we have about 20 plus members that come to every meeting and are super dedicated. So just our growth in numbers, as well as our growth in how much we are involved. does somebody else want to take over?

Rachel Biening: yeah, I can. I can just briefly speak on. So, like I said before, um, I’ve been in this club since I was a freshmen and I started at MSU in 2017 and just in those three years or so, the club has grown so much. I never thought I would be on the e-board for it because I just, I, it was so small and I just wasn’t sure if it would like take off, like we wanted it to. Um, but the four of us especially really put the work in and we really wanted to make sure that once the old e-board members left, that we took the guidance from them and just. Kind of started to, uh, reach out to newer, uh, freshmen and things like that. So that is another thing that I want to mention about this club. Um, we are very inclusive to freshmen. Sophomore doesn’t matter, your, um, Your status, your grade in school? Um, I feel like a lot of people are nervous being a freshmen coming into like a big club. I know I was, um, especially bigger clubs at sometimes. It’s scary. So I feel like this is, um, a comfortable club for people to be in. And, um, it’s just grown a lot since I’ve been a freshman and I hope it’s a comfortable place for other freshmen.

Katie Wiessner: Yeah. And especially this semester it’s been difficult. I mean, for everybody obviously but kind of like last minute we kind of had to like pull. Things together and figure out what we were going to do. Um, but we did it and we accomplished that. And, um, now we have like the club that we have now and we’re like, we’re getting things done. And, um, yeah,

Julianna Nagy:  so another thing that I’m really proud of from this club is I think how diverse we are as well because a lot of people think, Oh, like animal-assisted therapy, maybe you have to be pre vet to work with this or to work with us. Um, but no, that’s not true. I think we have a very diverse culture in our club. Like I know I personally am going pre-med um, I think Nina is going pre vet. Um, but we’re all doing different things, but we all can still come together and have a very dedicated following system. And so I think that’s really awesome.

Nina Biundo: Yeah, that’s definitely a good thing to mention too, is when I first started, it was mainly consisted of people that were planning on going into veterinary medicine. But now we have people that are planning on going into medicine, veterinary medicine, people that want to go into like occupational therapy or people that want to actually work with service animals. We also have a lot of psych backgrounds like you, Rachel. Um, There really is no limit to the people that want to be involved and the people that are involved. So I do love that about us is how diverse everyone is.

Connie Rahbany: You’re listening to WDBM East Lansing,  I’m Connie Rahbany, your host of Exposure. And today we’re talking to MSU’s animal-assisted therapy club. How has the animal assisted therapy club been impacted since the start of COVID-19?

Nina Biundo: So unfortunately, we have been unable to do any of our normal outreach programs where we go and volunteer at local areas, but we still have been able to hold meetings over zoom online, and we’re doing our best to keep up with fundraisers online as well. So ultimately I think that we’re handling the transition online due to COVID pretty well. The only thing that we’re pretty bummed about is not being able to go out and volunteer, but hopefully we’ll be able to do that soon.

Katie Wiessner: Yeah. So usually we want to go out and volunteer, um, at different like writing centers or sometimes like nonprofits that work with  service animals, or just companies that work with service animals, but we cannot this semester. So, um, this semester we’ve kind of turned it into a self-care club in a way, like Nina said, we did baking at our other meeting and we have a movie night coming up and like a study session coming up. So we’ve handled it like, well, and, um, the transition was difficult, but, um, we pulled it off.

Julianna Nagy: Yeah. And so on top of doing it, um, fundraisers and volunteering outings, we also like to do, you know, different bonding events for the members of the club and so last year before COVID did hit, um, we were able to have one fun, um, bonding together where we went to a cat cafe. Um, and then we were very interested in doing goat yoga with the club, but unfortunately that was unable to happen. Um, so those are some things that we’re trying to look forward to in the future, but I do think that we have been doing a very great job of transitioning everything online and we’ve still been able to have bond givens. Like we mentioned, this coming week, we’re actually going to be doing, a movie watching together and then we’ve done baking together. So I think we’re doing the best that we can.

Connie Rahbany: And is there anything that the animal assisted therapy club is doing right now that you’d like to share?

Nina Biundo: so currently we have our annual fund pasta fundraiser going on, so you can buy really cool pasta shapes that really anyone would love. They could range anywhere from little Spartan heads, or you could even get animals or any type of fun character in noodle form. Kids will love them. Adults will love them. So if anyone would like to look into that, you can find the link on our Instagram page.

Connie Rahbany: And how about looking ahead? Is there anything you have to look forward to at this time?

Rachel Biening: so right now, for the future, um, with COVID and everything, obviously we’re not doing like an end of the year event or outing or anything like that, but we will be hosting a study session over zoom. Like we mentioned earlier, just to kind of give everyone a chance to relax. Um, we can all just study in a social setting rather than, um, cause obviously going into the library. It’s not really a good choice right now. Um, so we’re doing that over zoom and, um, We’re looking forward to that. We’re looking forward to giving people the opportunity to mingle with people and study and listen to Christmas music.

Nina Biundo: And I’d say we’re also looking forward to volunteering whenever COVID allows us to.

Julianna Nagy: Yeah. I would say another thing that we’re definitely looking forward to, you know, COVID prevailing, um, you know, a big thing in our club is being involved in the community. And so I can’t wait to be able to connect our members with different service opportunities in the East Lansing area. So. Definitely looking forward to those. Once this all hopefully starts to die down

Connie Rahbany: thinking back on the experiences you’ve had with the animal assisted therapy club, if you could describe it all in one word, what would it be and why?

Nina Biundo: I think my one word would be refreshing. Um, I know that might be a weird way to describe it, but for me, like I said before, it just provides like a safe space for me and a community for me to be with people that have a common passion. And we just kind of thrive through that and we share that passion and we work toward it and we accomplish these goals that we set, which again is refreshing and I’m trying to think of a word for happy, but I don’t know.

Katie Wiessner: So I would say my one word would be educating. Not only have I learned more about service animals and therapy animals and how helpful they are. Um, but I’ve learned stuff from the members that come in the club every year and even my fellow e-board members, like I’ve learned so much from them like not only like service animals, therapy, animals, but um, just like everyday life stuff.

So, yeah, it’s been an educating experience. I love it.

Julianna Nagy: I’m going to be very basic and the one word that comes to my mind whenever I think of our club is fun. Um, ever since I got involved in this last year, I always look forward to the meetings. Every two weeks. I look forward to our weekly e-board meetings. I’ve met so many wonderful people and been given the opportunity to have so many different, um, learning experiences and service experiences. Um, and all of our bonding events are just so much fun. And so I, I’m just going to have to say fun.

Rachel Biening: I think my word would be unique. Um, because based on my experience, um, like with other clubs, a lot of time, it’s very separated between e-board and then members. With our club, we really try to make it really collaborative with members. It’s not so much, we make decisions. And then we give those decisions to the members. We make sure that the members are comfortable with all of our decisions. We really want their input. We do polls, we do questionnaires. We really make sure that everyone is comfortable. And I think that that’s a unique aspect to our club.

Connie Rahbany: And if there’s anybody listening to this right now that is interested or could benefit from this, what would you say to them?

Julianna Nagy: I would say, do not be afraid to approach us or contact us whatsoever. Um, there was no deadline that you guys have missed in order to join the club. You can join it whenever you want. Um, we’re always looking for new faces and new people. We’d love to expand our club and expand our outreach. Um, and yeah, we’ll just do everything we can to help you join the club and really benefit and gain experience from it.

Rachel Biening: I also want to add on to that. Um, each meeting is, it’s not like you are coming in on chapter eight. Uh, each meeting is like a brand new thing and it’s, it’s its own thing. It’s not like a continuation necessarily of the last meeting. So if you come. For like the fourth meeting of the semester. And it’s your first one. There’s no worries about that. Um, you’re, you’re not missing much and if you are, we always fill in new members, so it’s no big deal.

Julianna Nagy: Yeah. We definitely don’t want anybody to think, Oh, it’s solely in the semester. I might as well  not join. Now. It’s been so long. Um, definitely no, don’t think that. You’re welcome to join when ever you want and we are definitely looking forward to meeting new people.

Connie Rahbany: And how can someone who’s interested find you.

Nina Biundo: You can follow us on Instagram at @AATMSU or you can find us on Facebook. Our name is animal assisted therapy at Michigan state university. If you do not have social media and you still want to reach out to us, you can feel free to email us. And our email is [email protected].

Connie Rahbany: And is there anything else that you’d like to add that I might not have asked you about?

Rachel Biening: I don’t think so. Yeah, I think you covered everything.

Connie Rahbany: All right. Well, I want to thank you all for speaking with me today about MSUs animal assisted therapy club.

Rachel Biening: Thank you for having us.