The daily trials and tribulations of college life can be a lot to handle. That’s why some campus rec departments are finding they are barking up the right tree by offering free animal therapy for students and faculty.
Elizabeth Gamillo of Smithsonian Magazine said various studies have shown cuddling or interacting with a pet can decrease cortisol levels and reduce feelings of loneliness. Friendly canines are the animals most often used for pet therapy due to their lovable demeanor.
Drexel University and Viterbo University are two schools who are confirming these positive results through their campus rec animal therapy programs which provide students valuable time playing with lovable doggos.
Each institution’s initiative has its own features, but they have the same mission in mind which is to improve the lives of their students.
“Sometimes you need to step away from work, refocus and take another approach,” said Janine Erato, the coordinator of Drexel’s Therapy Dogs. “Therapy dogs provide opportunities each week to help you recharge and refocus.”
Drexel’s Therapy Dogs
Drexel University currently has three therapy dogs available through the wellness program in Recreational Athletics. The trio are Cane Corsos — an ancient Italian canine breed. They are available on campus over 20 hours a week to help students feel the school is their home away from home.
Erato said their department has seen the following positives effects the therapy dogs have on students:
- Lifts spirits and lessens depression.
- Lowers feelings of isolation and alienation.
- Encourages communication.
- Provides comfort.
- Increases socialization.
- Lessens boredom.
- Reduces anxiety.
“At Drexel, we understand the transition to college can be difficult for some students,” added Eratos. “Often, it’s the first time they are leaving their home, friends and family. We are one of the few universities that has an entire dog therapy program which provides office hours, open hours and participates in events weekly.”
During open hours, the dogs will sometimes visit residence halls and rotate 30 minutes in each building. They also spend time hanging out in main buildings throughout campus, but their office hours are on Mondays in a room located on the third floor of Drexel’s Recreation Center.
Erato said for the last four years they have had dedicated students volunteering four to six hours a week to assist the program. Now, they will be transitioning those hours into a paid position. Their current intern will complete their duties in the spring and will begin training the next intern over the summer.
The future of the therapy dogs will continue to expand after the recent addition of Mocha Latte — a new puppy born in March. She is currently completing some of her training on campus.
Viterbo University’s Pause for Paws
Marci Iverson, the assistant dean of Student Well-being at Viterbo University, said their animal therapy program aptly named Pause for Paws began five years ago through a partnership between Campus Rec and the Coulee Region Humane Society. To this day, the shelter continues to partner with the school by providing pooches for therapy visits.
“Students love to see the dogs visit campus,” said Iverson. “Whenever the dogs are spotted, they typically draw a crowd. Students have a great time interacting with one another, interacting with the dogs, taking a break and de-stressing.”
Pause for Paws travels around campus and meets with students for free once a month. While the humane society brings the puppies, the Viterbo team works on securing locations, communicating with campus partners and promoting the events to the campus community.
Moving forward, Iverson said they aim to increase visits to every two weeks due to the program’s massive popularity. In addition, they are exploring a partnership to bring baby animals in a petting zoo format to their annual Healthy Living Week on September 26-30, 2022.
“The benefit to the department has been a broadening of understanding that Viterbo Recreation is not just about fitness or sports,” said Iverson. “Individuals who may not visit the rec center are able to interact with the department staff and participate in a program which supports their health and well-being.”