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Therapy Dogs Visit Stressed Students

By Ashley Bowden
Arts & Entertainment Editor

On Wednesday, Nov. 29, the second floor of Hillwood Commons was crawling with fluffy, four-legged companions. Students swarmed around four therapy dogs brought to relieve pre-finals stress. This yearly pet therapy event was sponsored by Bideawee, a no-kill animal rescue organization, and the Center for Healthy Living. “We thought it would be a great way to psycho-educate the students and staff here,” Samantha Gonzales, mental health counseling intern, said. “People learn different techniques of how to relieve stress, but what [greater] way [than] with pets?”

Photo by Ashley Bowden

“I’ve heard of pet therapy before, but just seeing it in action makes it so much more real,” Sarah Mann, a freshman nursing major, said. “It’s not a fable; it actually works. I feel a thousand times better.”

Many students attended the event due to their love of animals. Maechel Johnsky, a freshman theatre major, has a Rottweiler and two cats at home, as well as a therapy cat that lives in her dorm. “[Pet therapy] is so important, especially during finals. We’re all very on edge and worrying a lot, I think it’s good to have just an hour or so to not have to worry about anything,” she said.

Photo by Ashley Bowden

The dogs were all personal companions of volunteers from Bideawee. The organization has several locations in New York that serve as adoption centers for rescued animals. The visiting therapy dogs were all trained to regulate their temperament and become adapted to large crowds of people. “We were in obedience school for about two years,” Josine Mash, volunteer and owner of Goldendoodle, Ginger, said. “Then she took a trick training class, so when it’s not so busy, she can show off.” Dogs performed tricks such as strategically taking a treat from a special tray the trainer held as a demonstration of how they could solve puzzles.

Elaine Bermas, volunteer and owner of golden retriever, Shally, has visited various types of people and locations to help. These include children with learning disabilities, residential hospitals and nursing homes. She has taught clients numerous things from how to groom and care for a dog to how to pack a suitcase. “It makes me feel good to do it because I’m just giving back for a good life,” she said.

Photo by Ashley Bowden

Shally is nine years old and has been working as a therapy dog for three years. The dog had been accustomed to being in busy environments such as movie theatres, grocery stores and shopping malls. “I knew it made no sense to keep him at home as a pet, so I certified him to be a therapy dog,” Bermas said. Shally was certified by Pet Partners to become adjusted to busy environments and to not be spooked by things such as wheelchairs or people with hats. This training ensures the safety of both the animal and people surrounding it.

“I’ve really enjoyed [the event], I love seeing dogs; they’re really good at helping me de-stress,” Jason Glickman, a freshman broadcasting major, said. Though he owns a dog, he described this experience to be different. “My dog at home isn’t really trained for this sort of thing, he just runs around in circles and barks at me,” he said. Each dog present at the event displayed a docile demeanor, and was welcoming to being pet by any student who reached out to them.

Pet therapy has been proven to lower blood pressure, reduce symptoms of depression and increase socialization according to the Center for Healthy Living. “Everyone [here] seems to be in a really good mood, and I’ve talked to a few people that I haven’t really met before,” Johnsky said, “I think it’s a really good community building experience.”

Glickman claimed the value of the event lied within being able to relieve stress alongside other students. “You’re with fellow peers and you’re all collectively suffering at the expense of your professors,” he said, “Dogs are always a happy face to see.”

“All in all, they provide unconditional love, so how can you say no?” Gonzales said.

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