Pet therapy for college students taking their final exams is growing in popularity on university and college campuses across the U.S. Trained therapy dogs are helping students relax and keep away stress.
The dogs are kept in counseling centers for students to visit as often as they wish. According to AP, pet friendly dormitories where students can bring their own pets are also springing up.
Both Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School have resident therapy dogs in their libraries. Students are allowed to borrow the dogs through the library's card catalog just like they borrow books!
AP reports that Richelle Reid, law librarian who started Emory University's pet therapy program after hearing about the success of the program at the University of California, San Francisco, said: “We had a student who came in and a staff person commented they had never seen that student smile. It has had positive effects, helping them to just have a moment to clear their minds and not have to think about studies, not have to think about books.”
According to AP, some of the dogs like Harvard Medical School's resident dog Cooper, hold regular office hours. Loise Francisco-Anderson, a researcher who owns Cooper said she got the permission of school authorities to bring the dog to the campus after her husband read that the Yale Law School had a resident therapy dog named Monty.
Franciso-Anderson comments on advantages of pet therapy: "You can release some of the emotions to a pet that you can’t to a human. A pet keeps it confidential. You don’t have to worry about someone else saying, ‘Oh, I think she’s having a nervous breakdown over the science exam.'"
According to AP, Cooper is so popular on Harvard campus that undergraduate students petition for him to spend time with them and many students come to visit the dog on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Universities partner with organizations that train companion dogs while others prefer that faculty members bring their dogs certified as therapy dogs to campus at certain hours during the week. According to AP, pet therapy services are mostly provided free.
Advocates of pet therapy claim that research shows that interaction with pets decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases "happiness" hormones known as endorphins. Fox 5 reports that Jerry Phelps, acting director of Student Wellness Initiatives at the University of California, San Diego, said: "A number of studies have demonstrated that petting an animal lowers feelings of stress and improve mood." According to UT San Diego, Phelps pointed to an article in the May/June 2009 issue of the American Journal of College Health and explained that “a pet therapy program could temporarily fill the absence of previous support systems and be a catalyst for establishing new social relationships.” Phelps added : “Stress is the number one impediment to academic performance. We do a lot to reduce stress. These are high-achieving students who place a premium on performance. They just run themselves ragged sometimes.”
Kathleen Adamle, a nursing professor at Kent State is hoping to get a grant to study how pet therapy helps to control stress. Adamle has about 11 therapy dogs in her team that visit dorms regularly. She started her "Dogs on Campus" program in 2006. All her dogs belong to her and other campus community members and are certified therapy dogs.
According to Adamle, there is a high demand for her dogs after a tragedy on campus, such as a death by accident. She says: “I don’t care if it’s 10 at night, we go to that dorm and sit on the floor. The kids are crying, and they grab the dog and put their face in the fur and just let it go."
The enthusiasm for pet therapy on campuses is remarkable. AP reports that Indiana University students cheerfully patronized a "Rent-a-Puppy" program in which students pay $5 to book time with one of 20 puppies from the local animal shelter with the option to adopt them.
According to First-year Emory law student Anna Idelevich, 22, who was visiting Stanley and Hooch, two retrievers school authorities brought to help students cope with the stress of exams, “I’ve literally been here every day. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. They couldn’t have thought of a better way to relieve stress. If they don’t do it next year, I’ll be upset.”
UT San Diego reports Harpalpreet Sekhon, spent time between examination papers, gently stroking Maly, a 9-year-old German shepherd. About 18 trained therapy dogs were brought to UCSD for the 2010 session as part of the university’s week long “De-Stress Fest.” Sekhon said: “I just left my o-chem final. Yeah, it was stressful. This is calming me down.”