PET THERAPY EASES STUDENT STRESS
The perfect formula for making stressed-out college students smile: furry faces plus wagging tails. That’s the idea behind Kent State University’s Dogs on Campus Pet Therapy Program and similar offerings at more than 400 U.S. colleges.
“Students who are away from home, especially the new freshman, are trying to find their way, trying to make friends and go to school … and they miss their family,” program founder Kathleen Adamle explains. “But most of all they miss their dog or their pet. They can talk to their friends and family, but they really need that touch of their pet. It’s very cathartic for them.”
Throughout the school year, Adamle, a College of Nursing professor emerita, and other volunteers bring their friendly, specially trained dogs to visit with students at the library, residence halls and other places on the Ohio campus. The goal is to lift the spirits of students who may be homesick, stressed — or just in need of a break from studying.
Bridget, a certified therapy dog, helps students in the library relax and smile.
Kent State’s program, the first in the U.S., began more than a decade ago after Adamle was walking her own dogs on campus and kept getting stopped by students who wanted to pet them. Seeing their smiles made her wonder if pet therapy — which has traditionally been used for people in hospitals or nursing homes — could benefit college students.
“I thought: Why can’t we take this philosophy and spin it and bring it to a well population?” she says.
The program has been a huge success — and has had the added benefit of helping to bridge cultural gaps at Kent State, where students from more than 120 countries are enrolled.
"This program has brought people together"
“When we first started, I had a lot of onlookers,” Adamle says, explaining the initial apprehension of some of the international students. “You have to understand that, culturally, not all dogs are house pets in other countries. The international students were a little leery at first.
International students sometimes start off as onlookers but end up smiling and petting the dogs.
“However, I will tell you that now, especially at the finals week visits at the library, everybody from every country comes. They do not necessarily touch the dogs, but they’re all smiling. They all take pictures. And the selfies that go on are a riot!
“This program has brought people together. They sit together and pet a dog. They talk to each other – which maybe they would never have talked to each other before. I do believe this is a common factor for all students, no matter what country they’re from, what their race is, their religion, their culture. It doesn’t matter.”
Sometimes the dogs are called in to help when a tragedy strikes on campus.
“We call that an ‘SOS visit,” Adamle says.
She remembers receiving a call after a student-athlete died: Could she bring the dogs to visit with students and staff members at the athletic department? Adamle agreed, hoping the pets might be able to bring comfort to the students and others who were struggling to cope with their loss.
“During our SOS visits, it’s very quiet,” Adamle explains. “Dog handlers don’t say much. They let the dogs do the interaction.”
The students usually hug, pet and snuggle with whichever dog they choose for 10 or 15 minutes. Yet even that short amount of time can have a big impact, as Adamle learned that day at the athletic department.
“Afterward, I had a kid say to me, ‘You know what? This is good. I can make it.’” Adamle says. “It’s very hard to find the words that actually show the magic of what happens at such a visit. It’s amazing.”
(Photos: Dogs on Campus Pet Therapy Program.)