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Calming canines offer stress relief to UNG students during final exams

Trained therapy animals help lower blood pressure, anxiety

POSTED: May 5, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Sure, surfing for funny pet photos online is a quick way to reduce stress and forget your troubles.

But students at the University of North Georgia know taking a break with the real thing is much more effective. On Tuesday, to help relieve stress during finals week, the library on the Dahlonega campus hosted eight therapy dogs and one therapy cat from CAREing Paws, a regional charity that “embraces the power of the human-animal bond.”

Mary Ann Crowell, therapy dog team organizer, said it’s amazing to watch the effect animals have on people.

More than 200 students took a break between exams and studying to spend time with the animals. This was the first time the university has hosted the event and organizers unsure what to expect but were pleased with the outcome.

Brittany Jordan, a student majoring in psychology, said she’s learned through her classes about the importance of taking a little time to relax during stressful periods.

“Puppies are the best way because you’re paying more attention to petting the puppies than actually focusing on ‘Oh, man. I have another exam tomorrow,’” Jordan said as she scratched behind the ear of a golden retriever named Midas. “Any action that you do that let’s you not focus on something and you’ll forget your stress.”

The animals were tucked away in the library’s writing center, which was closed because of finals, to keep other students studying in the library from being distracted by the animals.

Outside of the room, student counseling assistant director Jaclyn Schuon, a licensed psychologist, was on hand to help students if they needed tips on coping with stress or with developing study habits.

“A lot of students get stressed this time of year over finals and with figuring out what to do over the summer,” Schuon said. “It’s like a transitional period too for them. Sometimes they have to go back home when they don’t want to.”

Schuon said when students come to her feeling overwhelmed she reminds them to maintain perspective, breath and remember to take care of their bodies.

A group of students laughed while rubbing a small dog’s belly.

Students also shared a few of their favorite ways to calm down. One student said she likes to drink coffee to relax, another makes a cup of tea and bakes apple cobbler. They all agreed the animals gave them a break from their worries.

“It’s statistically proven that they lower blood pressure,” Crowell said. “In fact, they use the whole concept of they lower blood pressure, they relax people and you have to be relaxed to learn. It’s just a chemical or something that they release in us. Plus they don’t really care, they’ll just ground you. They don’t care what you look like or what you did. And the smellier you are, the more they like you.”

To become a therapy dog, animals must pass a temperament and obedience test. The team of therapy dogs regularly visit people in nursing homes, homeless shelters, jails and schools. The dogs also help teach young students to enjoy reading.

The dogs’ owners understand what type of situations their animals are better suited for.

One blue-eyed dog named Freddie wagged his tail as he made rounds, visiting all students in the room. Midas, a golden retriever, on the other hand, stayed in one place and let the students come to him.

“Some dogs are better at working with more active kids,” Crowell said. “Some dogs are better at working with older people. They’ll just lightly place their head in their lap and let them pet or with kids they’ll put a paw on their arm. We know what they like and some of us have more than one therapy dog. We know which ones we can take to what.”

Crowell said the team brought a mix of personalities to the event.


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