By Dr. Becker
Many colleges these days recognize that students miss their pets when they go off to school. Coming home to the unconditional love of a dog, cat or other companion animal is the perfect antidote for a long, stressful day – especially for new college students who often feel insecure and overwhelmed as they make the transition to campus life.
That’s why the University of Minnesota designed a program that gives students the opportunity each week to spend time with a furry friend. The program, called PAWS, which stands for “Pet Away Worry and Stress,” was launched in November by the university’s Boynton Health Service.
Pet Away Worry and Stress
Pets have long been recognized as sort of natural tranquilizers with the ability to lower blood pressure and stress hormones. In fact, during particularly demanding times, like finals week, many colleges bring therapy animals on campus to help students cope with the pressure they feel to perform well.
But according to Tanya Bailey, PAWS program coordinator, the University of Minnesota may be breaking new ground by making pets available on a regular basis. Not only are dogs part of the PAWS program, but also specially trained cats, rabbits, and even Woodstock the Therapy Chicken. On the first day of the program, over 400 students stopped by to mingle with visiting pets.
'It’s an incredibly important connection.'
Many college students who grew up with pets call home and ask about the dog or cat before anyone else. They ask family members to put the dog on the phone or find the cat so they can Skype with him. “It’s an incredibly important connection,” says Bailey.
The animals chosen for PAWS have to have calm, balanced personalities. For example, Woodstock the chicken, a Silkie breed with soft feathers that feel like fur, has been groomed for the job for years. “They really touch people in ways that another human being can’t,” says Bailey.
University officials have high hopes that the weekly PAWS sessions will help students perform better by giving them a way to effectively manage their stress.