Tuesday, April 25, 2017 saw the last pet therapy day of this semester at UConn. Every other Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Health Education Office, located in Wilson Hall Room 125, there is pet therapy. The dogs rotate, with a new one coming in approximately every hour.
According to PawsforPeople.org, pet therapy is known to be an effective relaxation method that relieves stress and helps with many physical as well as mental ailments. Interacting with a friendly animal has shown to reduce blood pressure, improve overall cardiovascular health and release endorphins, the hormone responsible for producing calming effects.
Benefits the therapy can have on mental health include decreasing feelings of isolation, reducing depression and loneliness, decreasing anxiety, encouraging communication and helping children overcome speech or emotional disorders.
Therapy pets have become a staple in various settings, including nursing homes, hospitals, daycares and of course, college campuses.
Carolyn Taylor, a fourth-semester actuarial sciences major, visits the Health Education Office religiously, every other Tuesday, to spend time with the therapy dogs. While Carolyn has a cat at home, the two do not quite get along, so she sticks with the therapy dogs here on campus.
Despite being allergic to dogs, Taylor finds that it has helped her mood and relaxes her to be around the animals.
“Dogs are awesome,” Taylor said when asked what keeps her coming back despite her inability to really interact with the pets.
The pet therapy program has proven especially beneficial around this time in the semester, when tensions rise as we are heading towards finals. Students find the animals help alleviate their stress regarding their impending exams.
“I miss having my cat with me at night, and I get lonely here,” says Isabelle Guilmette, a second-semester animal science major. “The program is beneficial because it gives people at school the opportunity to be around animals like their pets. It brings people comfort.”
Two of the dogs featured this week at the pet therapy program were Bella and Wrigley. Bella is a 10-year-old pug, adopted by owner Judy Pepin when Bella was only nine weeks old. Wrigley is a 22-month-old Newfoundland.
The training involved in becoming a therapy dog is hardly simple. Beginning with obedience training, the dog then moves on to eight weeks of therapy training. Bella gets tested every two years to ensure she is still fit to act as a therapy dog.
Bella has been a registered therapy dog through PetPartners, a non-profit therapy registering company for dogs, cats, horses and rabbits, among other animals, for eight and a half years.
Wrigley, still quite a young pup, has recently taken up canine musical freestyle, an art form that mixes obedience training, tricks and dancing set to music. According to Wrigley’s owner, when he is not practicing his freestyle or acting as a therapy pet, Wrigley enjoys eating pineapple and swimming.
Joleen Nevens, Health Education Coordinator believes that the program helps students fight stress.
“Students experience vary levels of stress throughout the year from moving in and away from home, to adjust to living on campus, to academic stressors such as mid-terms or finals. We offer pet therapy throughout the academic year while the library offers pet therapy during finals,” Nevens said. “Students report that they feel more 'relaxed' after attending pet therapy.”
The pet therapy program is valuable in reducing anxiety around finals.
“It brings people comfort, let’s you relax and not think about the stress of finals,” Guilmette said. “Dogs always make me happy, even when I just see them on campus.”
Abby Brone is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.