College can be a stressful time. Students of all ages are faced with choosing a career path, studying required materials, test-taking and financial aid decisions. But it’s also time to celebrate, grow and make new friends. Especially the four-legged kind with waggy tails, soft fur and the happiest – albeit slightly drooly – smiles. At South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC), their library was recently overrun with therapy dogs on site to alleviate stress and provide students with a healthy break from the everyday routine.

On Tuesday, June 6, the SPSCC library welcomed back smiling faces for Therapy Dog Day. Photo courtesy: South Puget Sound Community College

Therapy Dog Day Takes Over SPSCC’s Library

In early June, just before the college’s finals week, librarian Sarah Kaip welcomed students to come pet, snuggle and shake hands with visiting therapy dogs. She first started this event in 2017 and 536 students attended that year. But, like many things, it was put on hold during the pandemic. She hoped to restart Therapy Dog Day earlier but several participating organizations hadn’t renewed their licensure so there weren’t enough available dogs.

college students sit around betting a golden retriever in a library
SPSCC offers many such student support tools to help combat stress and create a safe, welcoming atmosphere. Photo courtesy: South Puget Sound Community College

But this year the event was back in full force. More than 200 students stopped by, surprising considering approximately half of SPSCC’s classes are still remote or online. “I decided to do this again because people kept asking me when the dogs would be back,” says Kaip. “The demand seems to be there, and I hear nothing but positives from students, faculty and staff. Some faculty even let their students out of class early to come pet the dogs.”

Relieving Student Stress with a Wag of the Tail

Kaip both suggested and facilitated this event. “I used to have a therapy dog, a golden retriever named Chance, so it’s a service near and dear to my heart,” she explains. “The dogs belong to individuals who are part of therapy dog organizations. This is for insurance purposes in case something goes wrong, which it never has. This time I’m working with Pet Partners and Washington Therapy Dogs in Seattle. No dogs are from SPSCC staff members.”

a woman poses with two golden retrievers in the SPSCC library
Licensed therapy dogs drop by the campus to relieve stress and provide happy doggy smiles to visitors. Photo courtesy: South Puget Sound Community College

Students drop in unscheduled, and the pups are limited to sessions between 60 and 90 minutes at a time so they don’t burn out. To augment the visits, Kaip also created a display in the library showcasing the differences between therapy dogs, facility dogs, service dogs and emotional support animals. “I often get asked if people can bring their pets to Dog Therapy Day,” she says. “They don’t realize these dogs get tested for temperament and obedience to be approved as part of an organization.”

Proven Benefits of Petting Your Favorite Dog

Activities like this are a win/win. “I think it’s important for students to get involved in campus life for social and mental health reasons,” says Kaip. “Especially now with so many classes offered online and the isolation that comes with that, it’s important to offer opportunities to meet other students and interact with faculty, staff and dogs.”

But it’s more than just social, she explains. “We also see all the statistics about the increase in mental health issues for young people. Pets are proven to lower stress and improve physical and mental wellbeing, even just petting one for a few minutes. We time dog therapy day to occur just before final exams so that students can spend some time reducing all the anxiety that comes with end-of-the-quarter assignments and tests.”

South Puget Sound Community College Library with one of the therapy dogs. Photo credit: Hogan McCale.

The AKC reports that: “petting a familiar dog lowers blood pressure, heart rate, slows breathing, and relaxes muscle tension. Scientists at Washington State University discovered that just 10 minutes petting a dog can have a significant impact…they are natural mood boosters.”

SPSCC’s library supports students by offering free textbooks, a book sale and even a houseplant exchange. Students campuswide can also participate in events like Mindful Mondays, yoga on Tuesdays or a counseling support group. The school prides itself on providing mental health and support services which help students achieve their goals every day.

Whatever your day brings, take a few minutes to love on a furry friend. Take a walk together, snuggle in a sunbeam, practice silly tricks, or just pet their soft fur. Cat, dog, pony or chinchilla, our pets bring joy and increase wellbeing through their love, antics and eagerness to spend time together. Especially if you’ve got treats.


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