Recently some visitors spent two hours holding a special version of “office hours” at GW Nursing. They lounged around one of the classrooms on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus doing important work, mostly napping and eating snacks, while students stopped by to meet them.
These visitors – therapy dogs from Heeling House – are part of the school’s efforts to help students cope during the intensive, 15-month accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program [link]. Every semester during finals week, half a dozen dogs or more visit campus. All students are invited to stop by for as long as they wish.
A study released earlier this year in Stress and Health by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) shows that some doggy de-stress time, as it’s known at GW Nursing, really can improve student wellness.
The researchers surveyed 246 students before and after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session. Students also filled out questionnaires immediately before and after the session, and again about 10 hours later, according to a media release from UBC.
The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session.
The feelings of happiness and life satisfaction did not appear to last, but other effects did. Ten hours after their doggie de-stress session, students who participated still felt slightly less negative emotion, more supported and less stressed than those who did not engage with the dogs, researchers said in the media release.
Therapy dogs are not service animals. These dogs provide affection and comfort, typically in facility settings such as hospitals, assisted living centers, and schools. They are pets that have a special aptitude for interacting people and enjoy doing so, according to Pet Partners, through which Heeling House’s dogs are registered as therapy dogs. Therapy animal handlers volunteer their time to visit with their animals in the community.
A therapy animal has no special rights of access, except in those facilities where they are welcomed. They may not enter businesses with “no pets” policies or accompany their handler in the cabin of an airplane regardless of their therapy animal designation.