Volunteer dogs help UMaine students relax, relieve stress of final exams

Posted May 01, 2013, at 8:50 p.m.
University of Maine freshmen Shelby Rider (left) and Justin Kemp (right) watch therapy dog Atticus show off his one-and-only trick, the handshake, in Fogler Library on UMaine's campus on Wednesday. Therapy dogs were available to students who needed a stress relief from final exams. &quotDuring finals time we're all stressed — and having pets around, they just make everything happy," said Rider. &quotThey should do it during every finals week."
Carter F. McCall | BDN
University of Maine freshmen Shelby Rider (left) and Justin Kemp (right) watch therapy dog Atticus show off his one-and-only trick, the handshake, in Fogler Library on UMaine's campus on Wednesday. Therapy dogs were available to students who needed a stress relief from final exams. "During finals time we're all stressed — and having pets around, they just make everything happy," said Rider. "They should do it during every finals week." Buy Photo
Therapy dog Joey is pet by University of Maine students at the Fogler Library on Wednesday. Students had the opportunity to interact with the dogs as a way to cope with the stress from final exams.
Carter F. McCall | BDN
Therapy dog Joey is pet by University of Maine students at the Fogler Library on Wednesday. Students had the opportunity to interact with the dogs as a way to cope with the stress from final exams. Buy Photo
Therapy dog Atticus is pet by University Maine students at the Fogler Library on Wednesday. Students had the opportunity to interact and play with the dogs as a way to cope with the stress ahead of final exams.
Carter F. McCall | BDN
Therapy dog Atticus is pet by University Maine students at the Fogler Library on Wednesday. Students had the opportunity to interact and play with the dogs as a way to cope with the stress ahead of final exams. Buy Photo
University of Maine junior Krista Nelson pets Joey, a therapy dog from Renaissance dogs, in Fogler Library on UMaine's campus on Wednesday. Therapy dogs were available to students who needed a break and stress relief ahead of final exams.
Carter F. McCall | BDN
University of Maine junior Krista Nelson pets Joey, a therapy dog from Renaissance dogs, in Fogler Library on UMaine's campus on Wednesday. Therapy dogs were available to students who needed a break and stress relief ahead of final exams. Buy Photo
University of Maine senior Kaleigh Knights pets Atticus, a therapy dog from Renaissance dogs, in Fogler Library on UMaine's campus on Wednesday. The dogs were available to students who needed a break and stress relief ahead of final exams.
Carter F. McCall | Carter F. McCall
University of Maine senior Kaleigh Knights pets Atticus, a therapy dog from Renaissance dogs, in Fogler Library on UMaine's campus on Wednesday. The dogs were available to students who needed a break and stress relief ahead of final exams. Buy Photo

ORONO, Maine — On a day that traditionally serves as the last chance for University of Maine students to blow off steam before a tough week of finals, canine volunteers helped students relax and smile inside Fogler Library on Wednesday.

May 1 was Maine Day at UMaine — a day off from classes with a focus on campuswide cleanups, service projects, a parade and celebrations before students hunker down to crack the books in preparation for finals week, which runs May 6-10. Nonetheless, dozens of students walked into Fogler Library on Wednesday afternoon to get an early start on studying or pump out a paper.

As students walked into the library’s large reading room, smiles broke onto their faces and many flocked to Atticus, a 10- or 12-year-old yellow Lab mix, and Joey, a 6-year-old Shetland sheepdog.

Rebecca Henderson of Holden-based Renaissance Dogs, a dog training and daycare facility, has organized a group of volunteer therapy dogs and handlers to come to UMaine’s library during finals to help students relax, laugh and take a breather from high-pressure test preparation.

Students sat on the floor around the dogs, petting the therapy canines as they walked around to greet students who approached.

“We all just have this desire to share our love for our dogs with others,” Henderson said of the group of dog trainers and owners who have volunteered to bring their dogs to the school during the next two weeks.

Studies have shown that dogs help humans’ mental and physical health. A University of Japan study, for example, found that when dogs and humans interact, oxytocin releases rapidly in the human body, leading to reduced blood pressure, lower stress levels and emotional bonding.

Other studies have indicated that college students are more stressed than ever. A 2012 study by the American College Counseling Association found 37 percent of college students who seek counseling have severe psychological problems, up from 16 percent in 2000. More than 10 percent of college students seek some form of mental health counseling during the course of their college careers. Of 228 counselors surveyed, more than three out of four reported that crises requiring immediate response have increased in the past five years.

UMaine students requested the dog service on a suggestion message board inside Fogler Library, Gretchen Gfeller, spokeswoman for the library said Wednesday.

“One of the things they’ve been asking for this semester is, ‘Please bring puppies for finals,’” she said.

The library listened, and Gfeller contacted Henderson to organize the service. Many other universities, including the University of New Hampshire, University of North Carolina, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rutgers University, have had similar programs.

Fogler Library is packed throughout finals week and the week before, with some students staying until the library closes at 2:30 a.m. after its extended finals week hours.

“This is really for our students,” Gfeller said. “Anything that any of us can do on campus to ease that pressure and give them a little break from stress is appreciated.”

Henderson said seven dogs — including Atticus and Joey, as well as Papillons, a corgi, a chocolate lab and a goldendoodle — would be brought to campus during the next two weeks.

Dogs and their handlers will be available in the library May 2-3, 10 a.m.-noon; May 6-7, 2-4 p.m.; and May 8, 2:30-4:30 p.m..

“Things start getting a lot more serious next week,” Gfeller said.

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