According to the 2015 National College Health Assessment, almost 57% of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety and almost 43% reported experiencing more than average stress. Stress can impact academic performance and can even result in severe physical side effects. Those extreme levels of stress are similarly experienced by high school students and even middle school students. With the pressures of SATs, ACTs, GPAs, college and AP courses, extracurriculars, etc. a study reports over half of students surveyed experience chronic stress. Some colleges are seeking creative solutions to stress on campuses, among them: pet therapy.
Organizations such as PALS (Pet Away Life Stress) are bringing dogs to college campuses to help students relieve stress. PALS uses trained therapy dogs, but some programs bring shelter animals who can benefit from the playtime and affection as much as the students. The animals are brought on campus during finals week so students can ease their anxiety between studying. Most of these programs are run by volunteers so the schools don’t need to spend any money.
Oklahoma State University uses a program called Pete’s Pet Posse to bring trained therapy dogs to campus. Unlike PALS, who usually only visits campuses once a semester, this program is available online every day. Students use these animals not only for academic stress, but for coping with personal tragedy. The university is hoping to expand the program to include horses and cats.
Studies show that students experience reduced stress, blood pressure, and heart rate in the presence of emotional support animals. Animal owners tend to live longer than those without. Pets also lower the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase the love hormone, oxytocin.
Emotional support animals have proven to be particularly helpful for people with PTSD or disabilities. Pets can also help ease social anxiety for introverts. The San Francisco International Airport has even employed the help of a therapy pig to ease travel anxiety for flyers. Unfortunately, elementary, middle, and high schools have yet to tap into the benefits of pet therapy. Undoubtedly young students would be even more thrilled than college students to have some therapeutic play time with some affectionate animals.