Pet Therapy relieves student stress

Originally Posted on Technique via UWIRE

On Thursday, June 14, students in the Molecular Science and Engineering Building were treated to a visit from two furry friends: therapy dogs Jake and Zeus.

The visit was part of the Pet Therapy program run by Health Initiatives. Pet Therapy was launched last March to bring therapy animals to campus more frequently, and Thursday’s visit is the first of two sessions this summer.

The lovable faces of Jake and Zeus may have looked familiar to some students because the two dogs have visited Tech before through the program.

“We work with an organization called Happy Tails,” said Jocelyn Resnick, a Health Educator at Health Initiatives who organizes the pet therapy sessions. “Happy Tails has volunteers from all over Atlanta and Georgia who register their pets as therapy animals.”

While Happy Tails counts dogs, cats, and bunnies as members, the pets that visit Tech are typically dogs. Resnick works with Happy Tails to coordinate when and where the animals will visit.

“I try to diversify the locations as best I can to reach as many students as possible,” she said. “One really great location is the BioQuad, the Molecular Science and Engineering Building, which is where our last visit was. That spot has been really great because I’ve been able to hit graduate students, and graduate students wouldn’t necessarily come to the Student Center. That has been really popular, and I know the volunteers like that spot too.”

Pet therapy has a history on Tech’s campus. During finals week every semester, students flock to the Price Gilbert Memorial Library to visit therapy dogs for  much-needed comfort and stress relief amid studying.

Pet therapy during finals week has become a cherished campus tradition.

Health Initiatives made the decision to launch a more regular Pet Therapy program last semester to address the fact that college students can feel immense stress at any time of the year.

“Georgia Tech students are always stressed, not just during finals week,” said Resnick. “The idea was to bring the pets in more often to help relieve stress.”

Pet Therapy is one of many Health Initiative programs —  such as Well-Being Activators, Fit to Thrive, and the Adulting series — designed to improve student well-being.

While the stress-relieving qualities of therapy dogs may seem obvious, there is also scientific evidence supporting the idea that being around animals is beneficial to one’s mental health.

“Research on pet therapy shows that petting animals actually reduces stress and reduces cortisol levels,” Resnick said. “It can have physiological effects on the body — so, just from a scientific standpoint, it really helps in that capacity.”

The presence of therapy dogs on campus reminds students to take a break from their studies and to relax for a while. Students have provided positive feedback about the program, so Resnick hopes it will expand to other areas on campus in the fall.

“I’m working on diversifying the locations. We’re going to hit Scheller in the fall. Tech Green is a pretty easy location, the Student Center is pretty easy and West Village has been good,” Resnick said.

She also hopes people who want the pets to visit a location near them on campus will reach out to Health Initiatives with their requests.

Those who were not able to attend the Pet Therapy session this month will have other opportunities to meet Jake, Zeus and the other therapy dogs in the future.

“We tend to get the same volunteers coming over and over again, just because we get volunteers that live close to Tech. They love coming, and I think the dogs really like to be with college students!” Resnick said.

“It’s just fun and gives students a sense of belonging,” she continued. “I know a lot of our students have animals back home that they don’t get to see very often, so it’s something nice for them to come out to for an hour or two and just spend some time with the puppies.”

The next Pet Therapy event will take place on July 18th from 6–8 p.m. in the West Village Unplugged Room.

For more information about Pet Therapy and other programs offered by Georgia Tech Health Initiatives, go to healthinitiatives.gatech.edu.

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