Paws to Relax: Therapy Dogs Help Students Manage Stress
If you’re like most students, suffering the stress of work and a full course load, you’re probably familiar with the Mindfulness Room.
Located on the first floor of West Wing, this space offers a homework and technology free relaxation zone, complete with bean bags, yoga mats, potted plants, and a water fall. But if you visit the mindfulness room on a Wednesday night this semester, you might be surprised to find the bright eyes and happy tails of four visiting therapy dogs.
CEE senior and mindfulness room founder Angela Ng has introduced yet another initiative to help students manage stress: Paws to Relax. By partnering with Animal Friends, Ng has arranged for therapy dogs to visit the mindfulness room once a week in the evening.
“Spending time with a dog releases oxytocin,” Ng says. “It lowers your stress level. It helps with cortisol. It’s kind of like a trap, because people don’t realize how much it helps their stress levels just to pet a dog.”
As a recipient of Carnegie Mellon’s highly selective Fifth Year Scholarship, Ng will continue developing Paws to Relax for the next year as her fifth year scholar project.
“One of the biggest parts of this scholar program is having a contingency, because it’s not just supposed to be an extra year. It has to be a valuable project with a sustainable continuation plan,” she says.
Moving forward, Ng plans to make therapy dogs available on campus more often than an hour a week. She has researched animal therapy programs at many universities, such as Harvard and MIT, and is considering several different approaches to bringing dogs on campus full time. Resident dogs could be available at the library or counseling center, or faculty members could even certify their own pets for therapy.
Regardless of how the program develops at CMU, Ng believes the therapy animals will be instrumental in helping students manage stress.
“There are plenty of ways you can de-stress the students without the stigma of seeing a therapist,” Ng says. “A lot of people don’t want to address their mental health, but a lot of people want to play with dogs.”