Therapy dogs help relieve student stress

Long reading lists, lectures, term papers, exams -- all can add anxiety to a student's life. But according to San Francisco State University Health Educator Christine Morley, there can be yet another, more surprising source of stress: wondering what to do about stress.

"Students can get overwhelmed by all the information out there on how to relieve stress and where to even get started," Morley said.

SF State student Jawan Joseph pets Marlow the therapy dog

SF State student Jawan Joseph pets Marlow the therapy dog

That's why, in addition to posting tips on dealing with stress on its webpage and social media accounts, Student Health Services has begun bringing a tried-and-true tension reliever directly to students. On the third Tuesday of every month, SF State's campus goes to the dogs -- or, more accurately, the dogs come to campus -- as tail-wagging, face-licking "therapy dogs" spend an hour helping students pet their cares away.

"It's so nice seeing the dogs. It makes you feel like a little kid again," said first-year computer engineering student Sandesh Mudbhari, who stopped to spend time with the dogs during one of their recent visits. "You just want to go hug them."

"Somebody in my course said, 'Hey, there's therapy dogs downstairs!' So a whole group of us came running out," said social psychology graduate student Zaviera Reyes. "They just offer unconditional love, and it's a break from staring at a computer screen."

According to Morley, hundreds of students have spent time with the dogs, which are brought to campus by volunteers from the nonprofit organization Therapy Dogs International. (The San Francisco SPCA has also made dogs available for anti-stress events on campus.) All the canine stress counselors are trained, tested, certified therapy dogs. Not that pooches need much help cheering people up: For most, it comes naturally.

"There are studies about how dogs help relieve anxiety," Morley said. "Just petting a dog can lower your blood pressure."

For freshman Abby Goecks, spending time with a new furry friend eases the ache that comes from missing an old one.

"I love the dogs because I have a dog at home and I'm from SoCal so I don't get to see her much," Goecks said. "Sometimes I'm just missing home, missing my dog, and just being near a dog lifts my spirits."

"Dogs just naturally make people happy," said sexuality studies graduate student James Lykens after spending a few minutes with the therapy dogs. "I'm a lot more mellow. I feel like I can take on my early midterms now."

The therapy dogs will be in the garden above the Student Health Services building from noon to 1 p.m. on March 17, April 21 and May 19.

--University Communications