New student club wants to bring animal therapy into your life

A student leans over to play with a dog in Laurel Hall. Dogs and other animals are proven to reduce stress and will be used in a new student initiative called Ruff Day for animal therapy. (Zhelun Lang/Daily Campus)

Ruff Day, a new student initiative, is looking to bring more pets to campus to combat mental health problems and the general loneliness that students sometimes feel living on a college campus.

The organization will make their first appearance at the University of Connecticut’s Fresh Check Day, held on April 23 from noon to 4 p.m.

Fresh Check Day is a mental health initiative and the signature event of the Jordan Porco Foundation. Porco committed suicide as a college freshman, and in response his family began the nonprofit to help other students in need and to reduce the stigma about mental illnesses. Fresh Check Days take place throughout the Northeast and are expanding nationwide.

The Fresh Check Day will serve as a pilot test for Ruff Day. If student feedback is positive and expansive, the organization will look to make more appearances at campus events.

Kaitlyn Allen, a sixth-semester psychology major and criminal justice minor, began the club about a month ago. She has noticed that students love seeing pets on campus, whether they are service animals, visitors or pet therapy dogs. She wanted students to have a chance to get together and meet new cuddly friends.

“Ruff Day is a starting point for the conversation of topics that surround wellness and mental health,” Allen said. “We need to address the idea that denying one’s view of their wellness does not stem from fear, but from a complicated psychological rational that includes their identity and ideologies.”

She has recruited about 11 animals so far — 10 dogs and a bunny. Her goal is around 20 animals for the first pilot test. She may expand the pet group later.

Allen transferred to UConn last semester and was interested to see how students handle their stress on campus.

She has received support from the Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty and Director of the Counseling and Mental Health Services Elizabeth Cracco.

The animals are welcome on campus grounds, however, they are not allowed in any buildings, including dormitories, dining halls and classroom buildings. State law prohibits animals inside buildings unless they are registered service animals.

Allen said her initiative is different from other pet therapy dogs on campus because the organization is made by students, for students. Students understand the stress their peers are feeling.

“I want students to bring their animals in for their animals to help other students. This can foster empathy and understanding about mental health issue,” Allen said.

Ruff Day has a second event scheduled on April 8 at the Alternative Medicine Fair.

The campus is very supportive of mental health issues and making a safe place for students, Allen said. The restrictions regarding animals in buildings will continue, but Allen hopes the animal presence on campus will increase. 


Claire Galvin is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at claire.galvin@uconn.edu.