Therapy dogs paid a visit to stressed-out Sacramento State students two weeks after poor air quality from the Camp Fire forced a week-long shutdown at the university.
With finals week looming, students petted and played with poodles and border collies in an effort to relax and post content on social media. The dogs were part of a pet therapy organization called Gold Country Love on a Leash, which certifies privately owned dogs — and sometimes cats and rabbits — to comfort people around them.
Because of the week-long closure, Sacramento State rescheduled events and extended the deadline to drop classes. But the fall semester was not extended, and the finals schedule remained the same, bringing added stress to some students.
While this is not the first time the university has hosted a dog therapy event for students, this one was particularly beneficial given the added anxiety of an impacted semester.
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“Finals are pretty stressful to begin with, and some students might be cramming work in since school was closed,” Love on a Leash chapter leader Yvonne Telles said. “Animals have that connection to help reduce that stress.”
Research shows that pets can lower heart rate and blood pressure, and improve mental health. Petting a dog for a few minutes can release “feel-good” hormones in humans that promote calmness and relaxation.
Since returning from the prolonged break, third-year Sacramento State student Priscilla Mezquita stayed up late every night to catch up with her studies. She said this is the most stressful time she has experienced in college so far.
“I was lucky that my exams were staggered throughout the semester, but because school was out, all of those exams were pushed to this week,” Mezquita said. “Coming out to pet the dog has been a really good distraction.”
While all dogs can help human de-stress, therapy dogs go through a certification process, which helps identify them as well-behaved and loving toward people
The de-stressing isn’t just for the students. The therapy team said the dogs feel it too.
Lori Sturiza’s Australian shepherd, Pelli, tore her ACL earlier this year, and the university event was her first day back on the job. Sturiza, who is a nurse, says Pelli enjoys visiting hospital patients with her.
“She comes out here and gets an overload of love,” Sturiza said. “It keeps her busy and gives her something to think about all day.”
Student parent Carly Hessel unexpectedly spotted the therapy dogs outside the library and brought her two young children, ages 4 and 2, to pet them. As a newly single mom with finals approaching, Hessel said she felt the added stress of keeping her children indoors for days as smoke filled the air.
“We are very happy to find the dogs out here today,” Hessel said, as her children took turns petting a Great Dane as tall as them. “I really needed it. All three of us needed it.”