A Chocolate Lab, a Golden Retriever, a lab mix and a Papillon are coming to campus this Saturday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. to play with students. They are coming as part of a Sign Language House and WesWell event to educate students about pet therapy and help them reduce their stress during finals week.
Sign Language House Manager Eric Stephen ’13 and one of the Team Leaders for the Peer Health Advocates Mike Kurth ’11 contacted the Connecticut Humane Society about organizing the event after hearing about similar events at other schools such as Whitman College and Temple University.
“Stress is definitely something that is treatable through pet therapy,” Kurth said. “Pet therapy is really well known in our culture for working with physical disabilities or sensory disabilities, but what is being published increasingly scientifically and what people are finding is that for sensory processing disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and mood disorders, pet therapy can be a really effective form of therapy.”
For over 20 years, the Connecticut Humane Society has been conducting pet therapy programs in nursing homes, group homes, children’s programs, and for other small groups. This is the first time the group was approached by a University to conduct a pet therapy event. After Stephen and Kurth contacted the Humane Society, four volunteers responded to a Humane Society email agreeing to come to Wesleyan with their dogs.
Alicia Wright, Public Relations Director of the Connecticut Humane Society, said that this event would be different than normal pet therapy events because it will be serving a larger group setting.
“Our hope is that the four volunteers that we have secured to come with their pets will have the opportunity to meet and greet the students and spend time with the students and just give the students an opportunity to talk about something other than the finals they are focused on,” Wright said. “Many of the students I’m sure are away from home and may have family pets so it’s also going to be an opportunity for them to get some one-on-one time with an animal during a time when they are solely focused on their work.”
Kurth and Stephen have had to adapt the event to accommodate the large number of participants who will come to the Exley Patio, or Beckham Hall if it rains, on Saturday.
“We are prepared for it but it required a little finagling on how we are going to set up the event,” Kurth said. “We are going to have to have a line now and I don’t want to overwhelm the dogs sensorially so we are going to have to block off an area.”
The event will be first come first serve, and the area surrounding the dogs and their owners will be roped off with students let in at intervals. The event will have information on pet therapy available to students.
The student response to the event surpassed Kurth’s expectations. Over 400 people have indicated they will attend the event, named “PET THERAPY: Take A Break from Finals with Dogs!,” on Facebook.
Ariel Lesnick ’14 did not believe a friend who told her about the event until she saw the invitation on Facebook. Now she hopes the event will become an annual tradition.
“I’m really excited about it…it’s really brilliant,” she said. “I really don’t know how it could be bad.”
Madi Bayly Holland ’13 saw the event on Facebook and hopes that it will happen in the future during midterm season.
“It’s probably going to be more ‘Oh my gosh, puppy, animals’ than learning about therapy animals,” Holland said. “But there will definitely be a good number of students there who want to learn about therapy animals because I’ve heard through the grapevine that people have expressed interest in having that sort of thing.”
Kurth explained that hopefully the owner will allow three to four people to play with their dogs at once and that chew toys will be around.
“We are going to experiment,” Kurth said. “It’s a pilot program.”
Both Kurth and Stephen hope to see the event continue in the future with events during finals week both semesters, and intermittently during the year.
“Ideally, first and foremost it would be really great to just increase awareness of pet therapy and helper pets and helping people with disabilities in different ways,” Stephen said. “Secondarily, it would be really great to develop a strong relationship with the Humane Society so that we can keep doing this in the future and hopefully have a larger number of pets come…and build this into a program people look forward to every finals week.”
Kurth added, “I’m sick of not having a dog! Who doesn’t love dogs?”