Therapy dogs help UC Riverside students relieve stress

December 9th, 2012
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Therapy dogs helped students at the University of California at Riverside relax during their final week of instruction on Wednesday, Dec. 5.

Under a big white tent at the Bell Tower on campus, nearly 850 students met five pooches and their trainers for a therapeutic afternoon of petting, playing and fun.

Mental Health Outreach, Student Wellness Partners and Active Minds, a student-run group, hosted the event titled, “Therapy Fluffies: Paws With a Purpose.” Intended to bring comfort and stress relief to students before final exams, Therapy Fluffies has come to UCR every Wednesday of the 10th week of the quarter since fall 2010 — when student turnout was only at 350.

The groups are dedicated to implementing a variety of outreach activities to increase awareness of mental health issues on college campuses and beyond.

“I came here straight after class and totally forgot that I had to write an essay and study for two or three tests,” said Kaitlin Wong, a first-year psychology student whose first final at UCR coincides with her birthday. “They’re (the dogs) just so lively and energetic and not like me at all, and so I get to forget that I’m drained and tired and exhausted. I mean there’s a puppy in front of me and I can’t think about anything else!”

Stacey Grady, mental health educator at UCR and adviser of Active Minds, said, “Students really have equated the Therapy Fluffies to stress relief and finals. They know that they’re here to just be able to come and relax and calm the mood and the nerves before final exams.”

Inland Empire Pet Partners, a Delta society service program focused on improving human health through therapy and service animals, provided the dogs. These human/animal teams visit schools, nursing homes, treatment centers, hospitals and other facilities.

Katherine Gigander, co-founder of Pet Partners, team member, partner evaluator and owner of Boston, a 20-month-old Chocolate Labrador, said, “Whenever somebody comes in to pet the dogs, right away it elicits a smile,” she said, smiling. “And then pretty soon you can see their body postures change — they’re not quite so rigid, and they start to relax, and then they start to ask you questions. They want to know about the dog. And pretty soon their mindset has now changed from, ‘Oh, I have to get this done and crunch before finals,’ to ‘This is really a nice day,’ and they get to play with the dog and touch the dog.”

For one student, the dogs did more than alleviate stress.

“They’re (the dogs) not worrying, so I’m not worrying either,” third-year Latin American studies student Marvin Garcia said. “These dogs made me feel a lot better since I can’t go home right now and pet my own dog. It’s like a home for me.”

The other canines ready for affection included: Chili, a 5-year-old Welsh Corgi; Titan, a 3-year-old English Mastiff; Haylee Sue, a 5-year-old Pug; and Zion, a 21/2-year-old Australian Shepherd.

~ Courtesy of The Press-Enterprise

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