Therapy Dogs Help Students Cope One Year After OSU Parade Tragedy
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - Dubbed "America's Greatest Homecoming Celebration," the biggest week of the year is in full swing at Oklahoma State University. Monday was also the one year anniversary of the parade crash that killed four people.
The university held a tailgate party for students Monday evening, which would seem like any other celebration. Deep down, however, the students are still hurting.
Campus is aglow with Cowboy pride this week. The library fountain is running orange and students are competing for best sign to show their spirit.
"I'm definitely enjoying the festivities," said senior Gordon Aufill. "Everyone's getting excited and that's just fun to be around."
Beyond the homecoming theme of "Dream," there are still traces of another slogan, "Stillwater Strong."
"It's in the air. You can feel it. You can't see it as much because people want to put on their brightest faces for homecoming because it's meant to be a happy event," said senior Tyronne Hymes.
There is not much physical evidence left of the horrific crash that killed four and injured dozens, just a small memorial at the intersection. At this Saturday's parade, though, the university will showcase three horses and one pony, saddled but riderless, as a true cowboy funeral.
"We need that to pay homage to them because whenever you are healing, you must acknowledge what needs to be healed," said Hymes.
One way students are healing is through Pete's Pet Posse, a group of about 30 therapy dogs and their handlers who are a constant presence on campus. Last year they spent the week after homecoming in the counselors' office for grieving students.
"Some of them just wanted to sit and pet the dog," said handler and staff member Susan Simmons. "They didn't want anything else but to love on somebody and have somebody there for them that they didn't want to talk back."
A year later, the Posse is still doing its job.
"I see other people, even if they don't pet the dog, just walking by you see them smile," said student handler Baylie McDougal.
As the students try to have a good time, the woman accused of driving through that crowd of OSU fans is still on trial.