Whimpering, cooing and yapping noises were coming from the student lounge in the library on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.
A fluffy white Bichon Frise named Bella, a silky soft, puppy-faced Golden Retriever named Autumn, and a sleek little Jack Russell Terrier named Tess all got snuggles and love from 20 people, almost all of whom were sitting on the floor with them.
The Wellness Center and nursing program at Castleton started a weekly stress clinic featuring therapy dogs as a way to help students learn about and cope with stress. It also serves as part of one nursing professor’s research for her Ph.D.
“They are such happy animals and it’s impossible not to smile when they start wagging their tails and kissing your face. Just the act of petting a dog helps reduce the stress probably because it is such a repetitive motion that is soothing to us,” said sophomore Brigitta Gough.
Jamie Bentley, coordinator of Campus Wellness Education, and Martha Coulter, director of the Wellness Center, explained that one of the best ways to reduce anxiety and stress is to talk about it.
“We also know that pets and therapy dogs can be really helpful in trying to reduce our stress. We know people actually talk to their pets and their animals because animals are really good at not judging,” Bentley said.
The clinic wasn’t just about playing with dogs though.
Brooke Naylor, a nursing student, gave a short presentation on the relationship between college students and stress and how it affects other aspects of their life.
“I did a whole bunch of research on different studies that explained the correlation between the stress/illness relationship and found that it’s kind of this continuous cycle. You eat the wrong foods. You don’t get enough sleep. You’re stressed because you’re not eating the right foods. Not eating the right foods is making you more stressed,” Naylor said.
She also handed out some tips for improving sleep, exercise and overall stress levels. Bentley and Coulter also handed out a checklist for students to fill out and see how stressed they are.
Most people filled them out quickly and hid them under the handout from Naylor.
While Coulter had a recorded four-minute meditation exercise playing on her phone that everyone participated in as a way relax them, the dogs (mostly Tess) yipped and whimpered, looking for attention. The owners kept rustling treat bags trying to keep them quiet and happy while students were trying to focus on meditating and not the dogs for four minutes, which was cut short when the phone started ringing.
No one seemed to notice or mind that they got to start playing with dogs sooner.
Autumn, Tess and Bella found many laps to sit in a faces to lick while the presentations and meditation were going on, but the last half hour of the clinic was saved just for questions and, more importantly, petting dogs.
“I think that dogs are incredibly useful in relieving stress. They show affection when they sense that stress and stay by you as a sort of comfort,” Gough said.
If that is the case, then these dogs were definitely sensing some stress and these dogs go to school to learn how to help make people feel better. They go to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other places where their job is to help people as a part of the Caring Canines Therapy Dog Group.
Tess and Autumn had already been to school that day and Bella had been at the hospital that morning, but they didn’t let that affect their care for the college students.
All three seemed to be doing whatever they could to make people smile.
It didn’t take much.
Everyone giggled quietly while Tess was making noise during what was supposed to be a quiet meditation. Even when the dogs weren’t the main focus of the clinic, they were what people were focused on.
Coulter and Bentley agreed that dogs, or pets in general, can be great therapists.
“They don’t care what you tell them. They’re going to lick you in the face and love you,” Bentley said.
“My dog thinks that everything I say is brilliant,” Coulter replied.
“My dog thinks I’m hysterical,” Bentley said laughing.