On Wednesday, the University of Minnesota’s Pet Away Worry and Stress initiative opened over the summer for the first time.
Students, staff and community members were able to spend the afternoon with dogs, a cat, bunnies and Tilly the therapy chicken. The project, also known as PAWS, typically only runs during the academic year, but expanded after students’ and the animal team’s calls for more.
“We had so many students say… ‘Why do you go away for the summer?’” said Tanya Bailey, animal assisted interactions program coordinator for PAWS.
Research shows animal-human interaction is more than fun. A University of Maine study found just 15 minutes with a therapy animal can help reduce anxiety and improve a student’s mood.
Maggie O’Haire, assistant professor of human animal interaction at Purdue University, said spending time with therapy animals is beneficial.
“The simple presence of an animal can make a difference to people’s behavior and wellbeing,” she said. “Petting an animal increases the frequency of smiling and laughing and socially interacting with the people around you.”
Despite the benefits of hanging out with the therapy animals for students, many PAWS campus locations were getting overrun with too many people, Bailey said.
“They’re looking for a quality interaction where they can take a break and they can give their brain a break and have an enjoyable experience versus something that they have to wait in line for,” she said.
As a response, PAWS will expand its services in the fall. Bailey said they will make the recreation center a permanent PAWS location and the program will visit the St. Paul Student Center on Tuesdays.
At its first summer session, students said having PAWS around for the summer is helpful because they take classes and still deal with stress.
Arthur Leow, a philosophy senior, said the summer availability was great, but he wishes it was more frequent.
“It’s like having a little community,” he said. “Once a month of dogs is not enough.”
Many of the dog owners said they were thrilled because they get the chance to see students’ stress melt away. However, Seth Williams said his dog Andy might’ve been more excited than anyone else. “He was literally moping during the 3 weeks off.”
PAWS is set to run once a month during the summer on Wednesday’s from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Boynton Health.