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Oct 09 2017
by Jamie Su

How Pet Therapy Can Actually Help College Students' Mental Health

By Jamie Su - Oct 09 2017
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It's no secret that animals bring immense joy to the world. I find happiness and solace in my own dog, who's still considered my "baby" even though she's seven years old. However, since I packed my bags for college and moved away, there were periods of homesickness that I had to deal with. With external stress involving the transition to college it was easy to break down and feel as though nothing in my life would work out, not to mention how I missed my dog's kisses and furry body to stroke. 

I've always been an avid animal lover, so scrolling through Facebook and coming across funny animal videos is an instant stress reliever for me. So when I found out about pet therapy existing on campus, I was ecstatic. Taking some time to attend those sessions and relax helped me get the overwhelming worries about school off my mind. Due to its ever-growing popularity, pet therapy initiatives are becoming more common on college campuses, which can benefit both students' mental and physical health. It is the paw-fect instant stress reducer and can give students the emotional support and motivation they need to get through a bad day, assignment or exam. 

Krista Mangulsone via Unsplash

How can pet therapy help college students?

According to the 2016 American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, 42.9% of college students had suffered from stress, 33.1% students from anxiety and 21.9% from depression within the last 12 months. With the bustling pace of university and frantic chase to keep up with everything, college students require stress-relieving activities to combat the daily pressure they endure. What better way to do that than to cuddle with some animals in between study breaks?

"They're really helpful in relieving stress and relaxing," Joshua Kwok, a student at the University of Waterloo, said about his experience with dog therapy. "It's a quick and easy way for stress relief for students, especially around exam times." 

What do pet therapy services do for students?

Pet therapy services are commonly utilized at universities to help students alleviate their anxiety and stress levels, especially during midterms and finals, which means that there are usually long lineups when these furry animals come over. In fact, dogs are the most common type of animal used for pet therapy sessions. Some other examples of animals used for pet therapy include cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and horses. 

Elijah Hail via Unsplash

University of Guelph student and aspiring veterinarian, Katja Zbogar, has previously attended dog therapy and horse therapy, herself. "Pet therapy sessions are absolutely amazing because animals provide you with such a sense of calm. They are completely unjudging and loving and they live totally in the present. Spending time with these animals, I believe, makes people feel more grounded and aware of the present moment, and less worried about future events because the animals show them how simply enjoying life and taking it back a notch is OK," she said.

"On my campus, there is a barn with lots of cows always put in pasture, and if I am ever super stressed I'll just go and watch them stand there, munch on their hay, enjoy their back scratchers and perceive the world with such curiosity, and it [is] as though all my stress is instantly alleviated. I don't know what I'd do without that release outlet," she continued.

Indeed, pet therapy is shown to be a massive stress reliever that can prove to be soothing to students. According to the St. John Ambulance in Canada, it is reported that therapy dog programs result in an increase in smiling and in social engagement among individuals, which goes to show how animals play a positive role in our lives! 

Pete Bellis via Unsplash

Furthermore, pet therapy is convenient for students like Gabby Shaulis, who lives on a city campus, making it more difficult for her to visit dogs. "It's a good way to have college students participate in an activity on campus and meet each other," the University of Pittsburgh student said.

Likewise, whenever I need a quick cheer up from my heavy workload, I willingly line up for over half an hour just to meet and greet the friendly dogs. What I love about attending dog therapy is that the canine volunteers are always ready to shower me with unconditional love and affection. I would run my fingers through their soft fur and pet them – sometimes, I manage to even get a few licks from them if I'm lucky – and give them all the attention in the world. Volunteers who bring the dogs to campus also give words of encouragement to students, which provides an even stronger sense of calmness.

Having pet therapy should be implemented more on college campuses as it can provide students with an effective outlet for any stress or tension they may be feeling and give them a companion to instantly brighten their day. If you're ever feeling down or anxious I suggest attending a pet therapy session on your very own campus because, for me, it has really made an enormous difference and impact on my life that I'll always be thankful to the human and furry volunteers for.

Lead Image Credit: Andrew Branch via Unsplash

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Jamie Su - University of Waterloo

Jamie is a second year student at the University of Waterloo majoring in Honours Arts. She spends most of her time reading, writing, fangirling over fictional characters, sleeping, and watching romcoms and coming-of-age films. Jamie gets distracted easily when she sees any kind of dog walking down the street, but she never minds.

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