By Keith Bouchard ’14
Starting college is one of the most exciting and unnerving experiences that most young adults have gone through this early in life. It challenges them, helps them grow, and teaches them new things everyday. When students leave home for the first time, however, they may miss things they never expected. Home-cooked meals, their old bedrooms, and for those who have them, their dogs.
In spring 2013, Plymouth State University launched a pet therapy program which aims to satisfy every student’s canine craving. The first session was held during finals week 2013, normally a high-stress period of the year.
“I’d wanted to do this for a long time,” says Wendy Hills ’04G, the PSU Wellness Center coordinator. Pet safety was originally a concern, but all dogs require K-9 certification from the nation’s leading dog school, which focuses on behavior modification and trainer education. “[The program] was a huge success,” says Hills. “Students loved it. Some stayed for a whole hour and they couldn’t stop smiling.”
All of the K-9 certified dogs used in the program are local to the Plymouth area. Some belong to alumni, like Kathleen Norris ’98CAGS and Laura Brusseau ’04, and to faculty members like Ann Berry.
Some people may wonder why spending time with dogs makes such a difference when it comes to stress reduction. Many psychologists have noted the benefits of pet interaction, which they claim reduces anxiety and boosts productivity. Even the simple act of petting a dog is described as inherently therapeutic.
As for herself, Hills has a few other reasons for believing in the benefits of the program. “It’s truly a bonding experience–an animal does not judge.”
Additional sessions in residence halls will be offered this spring. Each session features several dogs that switch on and off for breaks. “We want to give the dogs what they need, too,” said Hills.
To learn more, visit the Wellness Center’s Facebook page or call (603) 535-2853.