Norah the ‘cuddle dog’ is a very welcome guest in the TU Library. She helps ease students’ exam stress in cuddle sessions that last about seven minutes. This time she did not come alone, but brought her little friend Teddy along.
When the door of the Thomas Edison hall opens on Thursday evening, Norah the labradoodle looks up with interest. A student cautiously peeps round the corner and then shuffles inside. She explains that she is a bit nervous.
As though she feels the student’s nervousness, Norah licks her hand. “She wants you to pet her,” explains Norah’s owner and TU Delft alumnus Matt Meissner. He encourages the student to stroke Norah on her tummy. “Look, she is raising a paw as she is enjoying it.”
Seven minutes later the student has clearly melted and leaves the space with a big smile. The Norah effect.
Meissner says that Norah – now seven years old – was always a very social dog. “When I worked at Topdesk I brought her to the office once in a while. I sat with other programmers behind a big glass wall. Norah flirted with everyone that walked by. It didn’t take long for colleagues to come inside for a cuddle. She loved all the attention!”
Norah waits patiently for more hugs.
When Meissner changed jobs he saw that Norah missed the attention. “Just before Covid, Mariska (his partner, Eds.) and I brought her to offices so that the staff could cuddle her. We also came to the TU Delft campus, which, as alumni, we both knew well.”
To make it doable for Norah, there are a limited number of sessions each time and she gets lots of breaks. “She loves all the attention, but she does have to recover the next day. It’s just like you or me having to process all the stimuli after a hectic day or a weekend away.”
One floor below, Teddy (in Dutch), the miniature labradoodle, is making his debut. “OMG, there really is a dog!” shouts an Aerospace Engineering student, amazed at seeing Teddy. She has just finished a marathon 12 hour study period and can really use some cuddles. “He is so fluffy. I want to take him home.”
‘This is exactly what I need’
Teddy’s owner, Olga Koorevaar, is happy with his successful debut. “He can get distracted outside so I was not sure how he would react, but he is very relaxed,” she says. Teddy is being trained for dog assisted coaching. Koorevaar reflects Teddy’s behaviour to people. “His behaviour changes with every student.”
Anne-Meike (higher professional education student of Mechatronic System Design) and Puck (TU Delft student of Life Science & Technology) are waiting impatiently in the corridor. “This is exactly what I need,” says Anne-Meike. “We have a dog at my parents’ house which I have not seen in a long time.”
When they come out after seven minutes of cuddles, their faces are shining with happiness. “He is so sweet. He came to us straightaway with those little eyes of his,” says Puck tenderly. Anne-Meike is mostly impressed by how relaxed Teddy is. “His owner said that he was very chill with us. I hope that is a good sign.” They head back towards the large hall where Puck will study for another hour.
Marion van Putten, Library staff member and organiser, looks on satisfied. “This is exactly what we wanted, to take students out of their bubble.” She glances at the register listing the time slots of students who had booked seven minutes. There are mostly international students on it. “They may have a pet in their own countries which they miss. This brings them a little closer to their feelings for their pet.” This is one of the reasons that Norah comes to TU Delft almost every exam period. "Even during Covid when we had to wear face masks. But the cuddles really helped the students.”
For Boris (left), this is a good way to de-stress.
Boris, a bachelor student (Computer Science), agrees. “It is so good to de-stress this way. I have pets in Bulgaria that I miss a lot. I think I will talk to my landlord this evening to see if there is space for a hairy housemate.”
- The cuddle sessions are part of the Exam period Relax programme. The TU Delft Library will run various activities from 20 October to 10 November to help students relax while studying.