I didn’t realize how much stress college students are under these days until I recently spent time at Kennesaw State University. Regular classes were ending and finals were beginning. I was there with my certified therapy dog, Logan, to help students de-stress and hopefully forget about the pressures of school, if only for a little while.
As we were leaving, a group of students was gathered in the lobby. One young lady asked if we were leaving, and seemed upset that she had missed her opportunity to visit with Logan. As we approached her, she knelt on the floor and began to cry. Through her sobs, I heard her say, “No one understands how stressful it is. It’s so hard.”
Logan immediately went to her, and as she buried her face in his neck and hugged him tightly, I became keenly aware that people of all ages and walks of life are struggling.
Stress has been linked to significant health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches and depression, to name a few. Obviously, in order to be our best − physically, mentally and emotionally − we need to manage the stress in our lives.
There is plenty of advice available on how to reduce and manage stress levels: get plenty of exercise, get a good night’s sleep, avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, pray or meditate. These are all good tips, but what if lowering stress and anxiety was as simple as petting a dog?
Studies reveal spending time with a pet or therapy animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. In fact, a 2016 survey revealed a strong link between pet ownership and the health benefits. (habri.org/2016-pet-owners-survey) It’s what the Anxiety and Depression Association of America calls “the pet effect.”
The reality is not everyone can own a pet. That’s where therapy dogs come into the picture. It’s important to understand a therapy dog is not a service animal, and does not enjoy the same legal rights and privileges as a service dog, which has been trained to provide specific disability-related tasks for its owner. A therapy
dog volunteers, with its owner, to provide comfort, affection and love during visits to places such as schools, businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
Therapy dogs must be patient, loving and even-tempered. Logan displayed these traits at an early age, and we took a beginner’s dog obedience class to start our journey toward becoming a therapy dog team. He has since received his Canine Good Citizenship certificate, and passed his test to become a certified therapy dog. He loves putting on his vest and going to “work.” You can almost see a change in his body language when he knows we are headed out for a therapy visit. Which tells me, he probably enjoys the visits as much as the people we go see.
For more information about therapy dogs and to see how your organization can benefit from a visit, go to www.therapydogs.com. Make sure to follow Logan’s adventures on his Facebook and Instagram accounts at Logan the Therapy Dog.
– Jackie Loudin, the managing editor of TowneLaker.