Dec. 8, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Final exams can be one of, if not the most, stressful time in a student's life. After spending months dedicated to learning this formula, that hypothesis or memorizing other molecular structures, success or failure can hang on a single essay question.
Talk about pressure.
And while there is no shortage of suggestions about how students and faculty can alleviate the tensions that can accompany this time of year, Slippery Rock University's Deborah Hutchins, program director, recreational therapy, has a rather simple approach - pet a dog.
For the past few years, Hutchins has brought her dogs, Bella and Sookie, to the SRU campus to visit with students during exam week. The tradition continued this week when the canines visited with students in the Patterson Hall lobby Dec. 8 and will do so again Dec. 10 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the same location.
Sponsored by the SRU Wellness Commission, this Animal-Assisted Therapy utilizes dogs to promote human improvements in physical, social, emotional and/or cognitive function. In other words, interacting with the dogs can make students feel happy.
According to SRU's Betsy Kemeny, assistant professor, parks and recreation, research supports the use of AAT to reduce stress, promote emotional well being and reduce behavioral problems or loneliness.
"During exams, just as important as it is to break up 'sitting time,' it is also important to take a mental health break," Kemeny said.
"If students can clear their minds and crack a smile, it may allow them to think more clearly. Pets respond unconditionally and you can communicate your feelings to a pet that may be more difficult with humans. Interaction with pets has been shown to decrease the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in people. Therefore, there is an emotional, physical and social aspect to this intervention."
Moreover, studies of AAT with individuals with acquired brain injury or surgical patients have demonstrated improvements in motor response, pain and increased attention span.
Bella, a four-year old golden retriever, and Sookie, a six-year old English setter, are registered with Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer organization "dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals, other institutions and wherever else therapy dogs are needed." TDI has more than 25,000 registered dog/handler teams in all 50 states. (Photos by Nikita Falen, emerging technology and public relations major from Ellwood City, Jamie Greene, emerging technology and communication major from Moon Township and Jordyn Naggy, communication and journalism major from Derry.)
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