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Pet therapy affords opportunity to combat stress

May 2, 2014

For the last two years, UW-River Falls has welcomed trained handlers and their therapy dogs to campus as a way to help students, faculty and staff deal with the stress of upcoming finals and everyday life.

Pet therapy has been a helpful break for people at UWRF that are looking for a way to relax. The therapy dogs have been on campus the first Friday of every month this school year. Alice Reilly-Myklebust, the director of Counseling and Health Services, believes that the program is effective.

“We do a lot of things to try to help students relieve stress, it’s probably one of the number one complaints, not just from students but from everybody,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “If you ever have a chance to come, it’s fun to interact with the animals, but it’s also such a positive environment. It seems to lift everybody’s spirits, and it’s just a really neat event.”

The handlers and dogs who are involved with the pet therapy program have to go through a number of classes before they can come to campus and interact with students.

“It’s not just anybody bringing in a dog. The dog has to have the right demeanor and the right personality,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “These are things we need to do to keep it safe, so everybody has been trained to prevent any problems.”

The program has seen a vast amount of people come through the doors. Up to 100 students have attended the event. According to Reilly-Myklebust, there is barely enough dogs to go around most of the time.

“We’ve been really surprised by the overwhelming response to the program. Obviously students miss their pets and are hungry for some animal contact with dogs,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “The first time we did it we were very overwhelmed by the volume of students that came.”

Faculty, staff and students of all ages are welcome to the event. Andrea Ohmann, a senior graduating in May, has found the pet therapy program to be useful while trying to manage the stress of her senior year.

“With finals and end of the semester projects coming up, being able to unwind and interact with animals has been a good way to de-stress,” Ohmann said. “I miss my dogs at home, so it kind of adds a little pep in my life.”

The overwhelming number of people at UWRF who have used the pet therapy program this school year has shown that there is a demand for this type of stress relief.

“As long as there are dogs and handlers, pet therapy will be back next year,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “It’s been great and students have found it really helpful with stress, so if we can, we will continue to do it.”

The next pet therapy session will be on May 2 in room 211 in Hagestad Hall from 3 to 4 p.m. The therapy dogs will also be at the De-Stress Fest on Wednesday, May 7, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the lawn in front of Hagested Hall.