Pet therapy programs sound like such a great idea, and they certainly are. In nursing homes, hospitals, and yes, even schools, people can find love, comfort, and relaxation with the help of a furry friend. With the help of a trained therapy dog, it’s possible to find increased happiness, lowered blood pressure, and an improvement in overall well-being. Students in college find that pet therapy programs are especially helpful when it comes to busting the stress of finals, and several schools have begun to bring in dogs during these times on an occasional, and sometimes even permanent, basis. If only for a day, these dogs turn into the stars of the college, attracting hundreds of students at a time to give them love and attention, while giving them a bright spot amid the drudgery of finals week. Here, we’ll take a look at 10 of the very best pet therapy programs available in schools today, and learn what makes them work so well for the students and animals that benefit from them.
- Yale Law
Students at Yale Law Library can check out books, newspapers, and a sweet little border terrier mix, Monty. A certified library therapy dog, Monty is available for 30-minute sessions of puppy stress relief. “General Montgomery” is even listed in the law library catalog, including a humorous description. Professors like Rajita Sinha appreciate the effort, pointing out that “it’s really great that the Yale Law School is recognizing the need for addressing stress in the students, because students … need to learn ways of handling it and need help at different points in the semester.” Interest has been high, and the free visits with Monty are popular among students. Sebastian Swett, a law student at Yale, checked out Monty to escape the daily grind at Yale and shared his insight about the experience: “I went with a couple of friends, and we could just enjoy sitting around with a dog, not thinking about classes or jobs or any of the other crazy aspects of law school. Dogs, at least the dogs I’ve known, love people regardless of who they are, and there is something comforting about that.”
At the University of Connecticut Homer Babbidge Library, the school shares a variety of animal activities to help students relax. Students in the library can visit with therapy dogs to de-stress and deal with anxiety. The program was called “Paws to Relax” and available during the super-stressful finals week on campus. The program has reportedly been expanded to include cats as well, for the ultimate in lazy relaxation. In addition to finals week, UConn brings in therapy pets after particularly stressful situations, including suicides and deadly automobile accidents.
- Occidental College
Occidental College shares a variety of free stress relievers with students during finals week, including Zumba classes and massage. But perhaps the most fun and calming stress-busting activity available to Oxy students is a visit from Therapy Dogs International. During finals week, the organization brought in 20 dogs trained in stress relief for two hours, a short but fun escape from the drudge of finals work and stress. Photos from the scene full of smiles and laughter make it obvious that the students (and dogs) really enjoyed the experience.
- Fordham University
The pet therapy program at Fordham University has proven to be wildly popular. During one visit, 25 students were expected to attend, but 200 showed up, and all were happy to wait patiently for their turn to cuddle with one of the six dogs visiting that day. Fordham freshman Christina Sliwak enjoyed the therapy day, and it came just at the right time for her: “My midterms just ended, but I’m just really stressed out about school and work 24/7. So this is very relaxing.”
- Rochester Institute of Technology
The Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf offers “Ruff Relief” for students, a quick visit from therapy dogs specially trained to help kids relax. Right before finals started, they were a welcome distraction from school stress, and students commented that it reminded them of home. The dogs enjoyed it as well: NTID director of financial planning and budgeting Michael Servé says that his own therapy dogs “really enjoy going to colleges and meeting the students.” Servé shared that the faculty and staff enjoyed the relaxation as well. After a successful initial visit, the institute has plans to make pet therapy a regular thing, bringing them in during Friday Pulse Happy Hours.
In between cram sessions, Tufts students can sneak out to have some fun with dogs brought in to residential halls. During their first visit, more than 100 people came in just to see six or eight dogs, enjoying the opportunity to pet them and even take pictures while hanging out with friends. Resident director Michael Bliss says it works because “there’s just something about the inherent happiness of dogs. I think students can tap into that and feel that energy.” Tufts has had several visits from therapy dogs in the past few years, usually around stressful times like midterms and finals. The events are fun stress-busters and great entertainment as students tested their response to commands like “high five” and “sleep.” Freshman Jonathan Paradise’s sentiment best expresses the moment for students: “This event absolutely made my day.”
- UC Riverside
At UC Riverside, dog therapy comes in the Therapy Fluffies group, specially trained dogs who can hand out licks and wagging tails to stressed-out students. The dogs are offered as part of UCR’s finals stress-relief program. Just in 2010, almost 1,000 students enjoyed a visit with a therapy dog during finals week, and a drop in stress right along with it. Of course, the dogs have a great time too, soaking up loads of attention from students who are starved for puppy love. UCR mental health educator Stacey Grady says, “For the sake of your mental health, come and pet a puppy!”
- Caldwell College
Now in its second year, the Caldwell College Counseling Center offers a pet therapy program for students during the week of finals. With dogs from Therapy Dogs International and Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, students at Caldwell are able to visit with dogs on campus, one of them even dressed as Santa. Lots of smiles, laughs, and hugs went on as nearly 20 dogs visited the campus this year. Students enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the dogs, as so many of them had to leave dogs at home when they went off to college. The dog visit was a welcome break for sophomore Sarah Sledgeski: “I’m so busy with finals, but to be able to do this means the world to me. I’m very grateful.”
- Oberlin College
Oberlin College students can take advantage of “Puppy Therapy,” an event started to cut down on the cloud of stress on campus during finals time. Junior Corey Spiro, a peer health advocate with the Center for Leadership in Health Promotion, coordinated the event. He says it’s a great program because “therapy dogs have been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and help alleviate depression, ADHD, and a host of other health issues.” Paws to Pet staff brought their dogs to campus, allowing students to relax while doting and “loving on” dogs. The response was great, with more than 500 people RSVPing for the event to enjoy their time with the four-legged therapists on campus.
- Mercy College
Each day at Mercy College, students have the opportunity to spend time with a therapy dog, a black Labrador retriever named Tuesday. She works in the office with the school’s director of counseling and comes to the office daily. She’s available for walks, playtime, and visits, and all students have to do is stop by the office. Additionally, Tuesday is available for counseling sessions and comfort during difficult discussions, making her an amazing resource for Mercy College to have on hand all the time.