The Furry Therapy Theory

College students feel an overwhelming amount of stress. This is obvious to parents of college students, counseling centers, non-college graduates, and basically the entire public with access to the internet. There are a great variety of support groups and counseling centers on many college campuses but there’s still a stress epidemic within colleges. I’ve found a possible solution that may relieve some stress from college students:

Therapy dogs.

Therapy dogs being available on campus can reduce college students overwhelming sense of stress. Since about half of college students are diagnosed with anxiety or depression or they self-claim to have anxiety or overwhelming stress in college, therapy dogs have been becoming a more popular option among college residence, majority now being millennials, and among college’s techniques and available methods for stress relief. I have tried this among my peers, having gotten interviews from many students who have therapy dogs, Western Washington University has tried it by having a couple therapy dogs be attendees at their Healthy Minds Fair, a fair full of different methods of stress relief found on campus and methods students could take home, and a few colleges got together and published a study in the “Journal of Creativity in Mental Health” about how they had given 55 students a chance twice a month to sit with a couple of therapy dogs and play with, bathe, pet, and feed them. All of these resources had success on varying levels, but were successful nevertheless.

Why therapy dogs?

Well, my own interest spurred from my love for dogs and seeing their potential for stress relief help active in my life with my three dogs. I see how helpful they are for me and if they helped me so much, I wanted to see if this was even a viable option of stress relief for my friends and fellow college students that suffer from overwhelming stress, anxiety, or depression. In doing more research I found how helpful therapy dogs have been for so many other students. There have been many people who have had the same hopes and curiosity I did for the use of dogs in stress relief resulting in many studies being done and a few college campuses picking up having therapy dogs available for students in various ways.

Domino, a therapy dog from “Dogs on Call” in Western Washington University’s Wilson Library

One college for example, where I’m currently attending, is Western Washington University. They have made dogs on campus very accessible in many ways, such as through their working with “Animals as Natural Therapy” putting a booth at their third annual “Healthy Minds Fair” and with “Dogs on Call” bringing a few therapy dogs to the main library on campus all day during “dead week” before finals for students to pet, sit with, and talk to if they need to, both in attempts to help students to relieve stress from their overwhelming college life. They have also made getting a personal therapy dog allowed on campus very simple.

All students have to do to get a therapy dog on campus:

1. Present the student health center with an anxiety, stress, or depression related concern

2. Have the doctor there diagnose them with anything that may need a therapy dog.

3. The student just has to obtain a signed paper from the doctor.

Now they’re eligible to have a therapy dog in their dorm.

Because this process is so simple, many more students have been able to take advantage of the opportunity to get their own therapy dog or bring a therapy dog from home with them to college.

I found two of these students and interviewed them. The first student was Maren, who has their service dog Clarabelle. At first Maren got Clarabelle for their physical disability that causes them to faint if exhausted mentally or physically. Although Maren got Clarabelle for that, they soon realized how helpful she was for stress relief. Maren said that when they would go to meet new people, go to large gatherings, or even just go downtown that they would feel so stressed when having to talk to people. Since they got Clarabelle though, they’ve said that talking to people is so much easier because Clarabelle is a mutual ground for them to start a conversation off with someone. It’s easier for people to approach Maren and for Maren to approach others. My second interview was with Sarah and her therapy dog Darla. Sarah suffers from depression and anxiety that result in debilitating panic attacks. Sarah and her family got together about methods they could send her off to college with and came up with getting her a therapy dog. They then rescued Darla from the Whatcom Humane society, trained her and got her cleared through Western. Now Sarah says that Darla is “such a positive light in [her] life” and helps her with her anxiety by picking up on her cues then has been trained how to stop them before they turn into a panic attack. Sarah has had so much success with putting her anxiety and negative energy into training Darla.

All of these examples have the same thing in common: they’re successful. I believe that making dogs on college campuses more and more available and prominent will continue to help decrease the stress epidemic college students today are facing.

Sources

Interview 1: LeClair, Maren, personal interview, October 11, 2016

Interview 2: Sarah, personal interview, October 9, 2016

Georgia State University, “Animal Therapy Reduces Anxiety, Loneliness Symptoms in College Students”, news.gsu.edu/2014/10/21/animal-therapy-reduces-anxiety-loneliness-symptoms-college-students/ , October 21, 2014

Western Washington University, “The Healthy Minds Fair”, “Animals as Natural Therapy”, November 1–2, 2016

Dogs on Call, Wilson Library, Western Washington University, November 28- December 4, 2016