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Therapy dogs help students unwind before finals

| Thursday, April 27, 2017

In addition to the warm weather, students were drawn to North Quad on Wednesday by eight therapy dogs from Therapy Dogs International as part of the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being’s (McWell) “Paws to Relax” event.

Assistant director for student well-being at McWell Katrina Conrad said the dogs at these regular events help students to relax and discharge stress, particularly at times such as the middle and end of a semester.

“Knowing that finals are approaching, we wanted to provide an opportunity for student stress relief, and spending time with dogs is a great way to do so,” Conrad said. “Therapy dogs are natural vehicles for providing support and companionship to students.”

The new initiative this year was inspired by Notre Dame students’ general love for dogs, Conrad said.

“We have noticed that many students light up when they see dogs on campus, and we’ve had countless students approach our office about having therapy dogs on campus more often,” Conrad said. “We hope that it’s an event that gets students excited and supports their well-being.”

Conrad said the events were also inspired by the growing popularity of therapy dogs at similar events on campuses across the country.

“Therapy dogs visiting college campuses seems to be a rising trend,” she said. “There has indeed been research on the effects that this has on students related to how they can lower perceived stress levels.”

So far, the event has attracted 472 students and staff members in total, according to the McWell Center, who gather on North Quad to pat, hug and scratch these therapy dogs. Senior Chris Maheu said he was attracted to the event because it reminded him of his own pets back home.

“It was really cool [and] I maybe miss my dog at home,” he said. “For exam week I have four projects to do, so it’s a good break before I start getting ready for all that.”

While students were energized by the event, therapy dog owner Ben Rose said the therapy dogs were also having a good time interacting with students.

“Chance loves to come hang out with people,” Rose said of his dog. “He loves the atmosphere and getting pats. Most of the time he visits at the Memorial Hospital. Once a week he goes there and visits patients and staff.”

The McWell Center has also taken extra considerations for the safety of both the dogs and the students, Conrad said.

“We have chosen to work with certified therapy dogs because of all the extra training that they receive in order to become certified,” she said. “Their owners will be with them at all times and they are trained to be in this type of situation. When the dogs go to volunteer in the community, they wear a special bandana that helps them realize they are ‘going to work’ and not to just play.”

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