If you go and walk on any college campus with your dog, expect to be delayed by dozens of students asking to pet your furry friend. We all have some kind of love for animals, whether it be dogs or not, they are pure creatures that can truly bring about happiness. As a college student, seeing a dog can remind someone of home and the love they share with their own pets. Or maybe some of us just think they’re adorable. Either way, the majority of those on college campuses love dogs.
On certain days of the week, students at the University of New Hampshire are more apt to see a four-legged friend because of UNH’s Health and Wellness program, “Paws and Relax.”
On every Wednesday, North, a Golden Retriever, visits UNH while his friend, Yogi, visits every other Wednesday. This service is brought to students through the ElderPet Therapy Program paired with Pet Partners. They provide therapy dogs to nursing homes, colleges, and even cancer treatment centers in the seacoast New Hampshire area, Maine, and Massachusetts.
Every Valentine’s Day, North and Yogi visit the UNH Hamel Recreation Center to give some extra love to those who come. Students come to see the dogs, some staying for a few minutes while others stay for over an hour. The presence of dogs can be wonderful, allowing students to take a break from their busy schedules, but can it really help them to relax?
Mary Ellen Whittier, Yogi’s owner, has personally seen a difference with patients she sees, specifically within the behavior health unit in hospitals, hospices, and UNH.
“We are here for emotional support,” Whittier said. She explained how her visits have made a difference in some lives, one hospice patient even saying how Yogi “made her feel alive.”
She said everyone that visits Paws and Relax always thanks her and Yogi, always leaving with a smile on their faces.
Students will usually gather around the dogs, trying to hug and pet them as much as possible, smiles never leaving their faces.
“Being around dogs just makes me happy,” a student exclaimed. Each dog equally gave attention to everyone. Though, it was common to see North snoozing on the blanket while Yogi walked around to students sitting in a circle of chairs. Occasionally some students, including myself, would get whacked by the wagging tails of Yogi or North.
“Not only can dogs put smiles on someone’s face, they also can help lower blood pressure as well as evoking nostalgic emotions,” Whittier explained. She spoke of how people’s faces light up when they see Yogi, and she has personally seen how he can help people feel less lonely.
Sarah Gardner, North’s Pet Partner since 2015, has also witnessed the positive emotions therapy dogs evoke in people since she first started in 2007. She recalls her times spent at colleges, and believes when students leave their family pets behind, they can benefit from spending time with a therapy dog.
“They miss that comfort an animal can bring, especially at such a transitional time in their lives. Spending time with a dog is a great source of com- fort,” Gardner said.
The calm and happy demeanor of Yogi and North is what qualifies them to be therapy dogs. When a dog tries to become certified, they endure an intense program in which they have to pass specific requirements, including a 35-minute test in which there are distraction dogs barking and the dogs taking the exam must not react.
Without this, we wouldn’t have North or Yogi to pet and hug. Some students look forward to their visits every week, including RA Emily Jenkins, who even made a valentine for North. She lights up when talking about the dogs, and has even made going to Paws and Relax a social for her dorm.
“They just make me so happy,” Jenkins said.
Going to see the dogs can be a stress reliever for students because it is happiness that comes naturally and can help some forget about their assignments and exams. In fact, fighting for their attention is the most stress you may feel while attending this program.
“Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, it makes students happier,” Whittier said. She explained that students are so happy that they just don't want to leave.