Bella, a Bichon Frise, stepped into the Castleton University library and immediately let out a loud bark before jumping from lap to lap of the participating students at the first Pause with Paws meeting.
Angela Smith, a nursing professor, is studying the effects of stress on college students after they spend time with therapy dogs weekly. Bella is just one of these therapy dogs signed up to help in the study.
“When this is over, we are going to take the data and hopefully prove that the dogs are a therapeutic tool for college students to be able to de-stress and then we will be having them coming back every semester for a program,” Smith said.
According to the Wellness Center, 258 students signed up for counseling in the 2015-2016 academic year. Smith hopes that for semesters to come, they will be able to bring the therapy dogs every week for the Wellness Center’s stress clinics – and hopefully that number will come down.
Smith came up with the idea after witnessing how therapy dogs helped students reduce stress during finals week last year.
She believes that therapy dogs are helpful to students because they are, “man’s best friend, they give unconditional love, you can talk to them and they won’t tell anyone. They become a part of families.”
Smith said that in the past, bringing therapy dogs to the library has brought so much joy to students, even bringing some to tears. Her method of study is to survey participating students. Each student had to fill out a perceived stress survey and they will have to fill out two more throughout the semester to help Smith gauge if bringing the dogs to campus helps student stress.
In the second meeting, Riley, a yellow lab, got everyone’s attention with his eagerness to play with each and every student. As students meditated, another aspect of the program, Riley whined at his handler, begging to be set free to kiss everyone’s face and get belly rubs.
Students noticeably relaxed the longer they spent time with the dogs. They smiled more and more as they pet and played with the dogs. The dogs loved the event just as much as the students, happily sitting getting scratched by the participants.
Students Elizabeth Boutin and Sarah Robbins explained at the end of the second meeting how helpful the therapy dogs were to them. For Boutin, she felt recharged.
Before spending time with the dogs, she said she felt like taking a nap, but afterward she felt awake and ready to continue the day.
“They (the dogs) are people with the best intentions. There’s no negative vibes, they’re just happy,” Boutin said.
She said just the act of seeing a dog on campus makes her day better.
Robbins said spending time with the dogs helps her remember all the great times she has had with her dog at home. She said it helps reduce her stress with school and missing home.
The handlers of the dogs enjoy doing this program as well. Meredith Dendo, a volunteer for Therapy Dogs of Vermont, said that she loves bringing her dogs to programs like this because it fills a need for her and the people the dogs are brought to help.
Once she started getting involved with Therapy Dogs of Vermont, she immediately fell in love with it.
“I loved it, loved the reactions, and loved what it brought out in my own personality,” Dendo said.