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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

McDonald Student Center for Well-Being hosts therapy dogs

While many students will be headed home to their own pets during fall break, a visit from therapy dogs Tuesday gave students a chance to relax with some furry friends during a busy midterms week.

The event, known as “Paws to Relax,” was hosted by the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being. This was the second iteration of the event, the first of which was held last spring during the days leading up to finals.

“Paws to Relax is really just an opportunity for students to de-stress and unwind, particularly during higher stress times like midterms and finals,” Katrina Conrad, an assistant director for student well-being at the McDonald Center, said.

Students pet a therapy dog at the “Paws to Relax” event, hosted by the McDonald Center for Well-Being. The dogs are part of Therapy Dogs International, a nonprofit.
Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Students pet a therapy dog at the “Paws to Relax” event, hosted by the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being. The dogs were trained by Therapy Dogs International, a non-profit organization.

The dogs were located on North Quad near Fieldhouse Mall, but attracted students from all over campus. Conrad said 455 students attended the event altogether.

“This week has been so busy that it has been great to be able to take a break for a few minutes and just enjoy the dogs,” freshman Cassandra Franke said.

Tuesday’s event coincided with World Mental Health Day, the goal of which is “raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health,” according to the World Health Organization.

Therapy dogs are becoming more and more commonly used in environments which might demonstrate particularly high stress levels, such as universities and hospitals. Dog handler Rick Mintz said he and his dog, Howie, visit patients at Memorial Hospital of South Bend every Monday.

“There have been studies which looked at the impact that visiting with therapy dogs can have,” Conrad said. “There is some research which suggests that it lowers perceived stress in students.” 

Students were able to pet and play with the dogs, as well as watch them perform a variety of tricks with their handlers.

“I saw the dogs as I was walking to lunch and I figured it might be nice to take a few minutes to play with them and de-stress,” sophomore Emily Black said. “They’re super cute.”

The dogs and their handlers come from Therapy Dogs International (TDI), a non-profit which certifies dogs to become therapy dogs. To become certified with TDI, dogs have to meet a variety of qualifications.

These qualifications mostly include behavioral skills, such as the ability to stay calm both around large crowds of people and around other dogs. Mintz said one of the most difficult things for his dog, Howie, to do is turn down a piece of food somebody tries to give to him.

The dogs wore red bandanas to signal that they are currently acting as therapy dogs. Mintz said the dogs can become mentally tired from their time on the job, as they are constantly engaging with people.

“[Howie] enjoys it, but it’s work,” he said.

The McDonald Center will bring the dogs back to campus in December to provide students with another stress relief option during finals week, Conrad said.