UMSL students 'Take A Paws' to help manage stress before final exams

Jeremiah Robinson, a computer and graphic design student, relaxes while petting Sophie, a 4-year-old Goldendoodle, at “Take a Paws,” a touch dog therapy event hosted by Purina and Duo Touch Dogs and hosted by the Office of UMSL Student Participation last Tuesday on the grass outside the Recreation and Wellness Center. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

He University of St. Louis-Missouri expelled Mental Health Awareness Month with an activity that unleashed the power of pets to help students manage stress during final exams.

For two hours this past Tuesday, during what is also National Pet Month, students had the opportunity to “Take a Paw”
and connect with therapy dogs brought to campus by Purina employees working in partnership with UMSL’s Student Engagement Office. Each of the dogs had been trained by Duo Dogsa national non-profit organization that trains and connects dogs with people to bring about positive change in individuals, families and communities, and gathered on the grass outside the Recreation and Wellness Center.

Participating UMSL students were able to feel the immediate benefits of interacting with therapy dogs. Brittany Fearnley, a sophomore majoring in marketing who has owned dogs all her life, attended the event in an attempt to soothe her mental health, particularly as she prepared for final exams.

Social work student Talia Percy reacts after Ziggy, a 9-year-old Golden Retriever, reached out for a hug during Tuesday’s event. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

“It’s definitely a lot of joy, it definitely brings a little light to your day when you’re trying to study and gives you a little break,” she said, describing how it felt to take part in touch therapy. dogs.

Sophomore Sara Perez, who has also been a lifelong dog owner, was drawn to the event because she missed her dog at home and wanted to spend some time playing with the dogs to lift her spirits.

“I really liked puppies,” the biochemistry and biotechnology major said. “I’m away from my dog ​​right now so I just wanted to come pet him while I could.”

Julie Spears, senior manager of clinical trials for research and development at Nestle Purina North Americais part of the team that conceived the event.

“I have spoken with quite a few of our behavioral scientists who have researched this program and the benefit that pets can have on our overall health and well-being,” he said. “We’ve done quite a bit of work with other universities like the University of Missouri, where they’ve looked at the effect that service dogs or therapy dogs can have on people who are going through a stressful time or have mental health issues. We could see a reduction in blood pressure or a reduction in some of the stress hormones, like cortisol, and just an increase in general mood.”

Taking a break from his studies, the interaction with a small dog, Bambi, gave Perez a moment of amusement.

“She was really soft and warm,” he said. “I felt happy.”

Julie Spears, senior manager of clinical trials for research and development at Nestle Purina North America, plays with his dog, Graham. (Photo by Wendy Todd)

Nyeal Biedenstein, a freshman majoring in accounting, is a great advocate of dog therapy. He has two German Shepherds at home to help keep his spirits up. He saw the event on the way to class and wanted to participate.

They have really lifted my spirits,” he said. “I came to school and said, ‘another day,’” she said, rolling her eyes to convey despair. “And then I saw all these dogs.”

May has been observed in the United States as Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949 to raise awareness of mental and behavioral health issues and decrease the stigma surrounding them.

According to the National Institutes of Health, touch therapy has been shown to lower stress levels. Additionally, it is known to reduce loneliness and increase feelings of social support and improve mood. The goal of the touch therapy teams was to complete about 1,800 interactions this week with students from UMSL and four other participating universities in the St. Louis region.