Dogs Help Students Relax Before Finals

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(Daily Utah Chronicle file photo)

(Daily Utah Chronicle file photo)
(Daily Utah Chronicle file photo)

With a wag of his tail, Mr. Parker welcomed students in the social work building to “Pause for Paws.”

Mr. Parker is a Shetland Sheepdog from Therapy Animals of Utah, an organization that brings trained animals to airports, hospitals and universities as a way to lower stress levels. The College of Social Work brought in the group for their free event on Thursday to help students relax during and after finals.

Jennifer Nozawa, public relations specialist for the College of Social Work, said this is the fifth semester — not including summers — they’ve invited therapy dogs to campus.

“I’ve had so many students who’ve told me they felt so tense and so stressed before the dogs, and after just a couple minutes it just dissolves away,” Nozawa said.

Deborah Carr, Mr. Parker’s owner and executive director of Therapy Animals of Utah, said she’s been involved with the organization for over 30 years.

“I love it because we get to share our special animals with people,” Carr said. “They help people heal. They help people feel loved and valued.”

According to the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, animal-assisted therapy can decrease anxiety and loneliness in college students. It can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, improving learning ability and mood, according to a report in Frontiers in Psychology. Looking into the eyes of a dog for longer than five minutes also increases oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in regulating human behaviors like trust and the parent-infant bond. The dog receives a similar effect, according to a study from the Azabu University in Japan.

Therapy Animals of Utah is an offshoot of Pet Partners, a national animal therapy organization of over 11,000 registered dogs, horses, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, domestic rats, llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs and birds. In addition to the U, the dogs visit the airport, mental health facilities and hospitals.

The dogs are tested once every two years to ensure they can calmly handle any situation and the people who may pet them. Handlers also take a class to make sure they can take care of their pets and guarantee they are reliable, predictable and controllable. Pet owners receive $2 million in insurance once they are registered and are limited to two-hour-maximum visits.

Benjamin Lundquist, a freshman in social work, said he found out about the event after someone in the building told him there were dogs downstairs.

“I’m all about animals; I love them,” Lundquist said. “I used to be a vet tech, and I really believe in animal therapy and what it does.”

Viviane Vo-Duc, volunteer coordinator for Therapy Animals, brought Daisy, a Chihuahua-Maltese mutt to the event.

“She gets treats, she gets belly-rubs and she just loves to say ‘hi’ to people,” Vo-Duc said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The therapy dogs will be back at the U on Thursday, April 30, in the Counseling Center, located in the Student Services Building room 426, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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@Ehmannky