In an innovative approach to support student mental health and well-being, the University of Connecticut Student Health and Wellness division (SHaW) has introduced a pet therapy program on campus. Recognizing the stressors that university life can bring, the university has partnered with Tails of Joy, a local nonprofit, to bring furry companions to campus, providing students with a therapeutic experience.
The program, hosted at the Cordial Storrs House across the street from Mirror Lake, allows students to spend quality time with trained therapy animals, primarily dogs. These animals, carefully selected for their temperament and socialization skills, offer students a unique and comforting outlet to de-stress and recharge. The initiative is part of SHaW’s broader commitment to fostering a positive and supportive campus environment.
Tails of Joy, the organization that trains these therapeutic animals, was co-founded by UConn family relations graduate Dr. Laurel Rabschutz. She still actively participates in the pet therapy program at UConn, explaining, “We’ve been lucky to have been a part of events at the Benton and Paws to Relax over the last fifteen years.” Rabschutz added that “SHaW asked us to come every week, which inspired other colleges to add similar programs.” Tails of Joy now also services the other regional UConn campuses, Eastern Connecticut State University and schools in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
SHaW also hosts a webpage where students can meet the cast of dogs as part of the Tails of Joy program, with new additions every so often. The visits are also used as a learning opportunity for the animals and their handlers. In October, UConn students met Fireball, a seven-year-old golden retriever, and Ernie, a one-year-old Newfoundland terrier on their very first therapeutic visits.
Research has consistently shown the numerous benefits of pet therapy, including reduced stress, anxiety and depression. Interacting with animals has been proven to lower cortisol levels, increase the production of oxytocin and improve overall mood. “I’ve been coming every week and enjoy it,” remarked Kaitlyn Baran, a third-semester animal science major.
The pet therapy sessions at the Cordial Storrs House are conducted every Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. According to SHaW, student feedback on the program has been positive, with many enjoying the visits during the midterm exam season. “Stuff like this is really useful since sometimes it can be hard to [take advantage of] other school resources… It’s easy to have a place to relax and smile,” said Lilian Ehrlich, a first-semester animal science major. The presence of therapy animals not only offers a temporary reprieve from academic pressures but also fosters a sense of community and support among students.
UConn’s support of pet therapy reflects a growing trend in higher education institutions recognizing the importance of holistic well-being. As schools all over the country strive to create environments that nurture both academic and emotional growth, programs like Tails of Joy are proving to be a valuable asset in promoting student success and happiness.