Therapy Dogs Ease Final Woes
Fairfield alumna Marilyn Rice brought Beau, a four-year-old Beagle Coonhound mix, and his little sister, Belle, a two-year-old Black Lab mix, to the DiMenna Nyselius Library during the week of final exams in December to help students relax — part of the DiMenna Nyselius Library’s first annual ‘Doggie De-Stress” event.
Nearly 500 Fairfield University students came for a warm and furry reminder of home.
“This is a nice, relaxing place to be,” said nursing student Mary Kate Reilly, ’16, as she joined several dozen students in the curriculum room to see the pups, even though the event was not due to begin for 10 minutes.
Sean Lynch ’15, agreed. “I’m so unstressed right now,” noted the finance and economics double major, who like most students just enjoyed rubbing the dogs’ heads and feeding them biscuits. “I love dogs. I don’t have one but I would love to have one like these guys.”
For Conall McNelis, ’16, hanging out with the dogs was “a getaway from it all kind of a thing.” “It brings out everyone’s smile,” he said.
Rice, the daughter of Professor Emeritus Frank Rice, regularly visits nursing homes with her dogs, spreading good cheer. They made several appearances during finals week as did Molly, a Beagle who belongs to Dr. Emily Orlando, assistant professor of English. “It’s not even been an hour yet and they’ve been petted by 7,000 people,” exclaimed Rice, once a library student assistant at Fairfield.
There are many good reasons to have dogs on hand in stressful situations. Therapy dogs can help people feel less sad and lonely, and bring down blood pressure and stress levels. They continue to comfort people in Newtown, Connecticut in the wake of the tragedy there, as well as in neighborhoods destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
The library’s “De-Stress During Finals” program also included “De-Stress with Jigsaw Puzzles,” complete with 1,000 pieces, and plenty of free hot chocolate and coffee while the building remained open for 24 hours at a stretch. But the dogs were clearly the stars of the show, and proved so popular they had to be moved to a larger room. On the second night of the three-day event, 50 students waited for Beau and Belle to arrive.
“It’s just one piece of our cura personalis initiative for the finals period although certainly the newest effort and likely to catch the most attention,” said Joan Overfield, university librarian and director of library services.
Added Jackie Kremer, outreach librarian, “The library's number one goal this time of year is to offer students an academic sanctuary - a place where they can go to study in quiet, meet with their groups to complete final projects and refuel themselves any time of the day or night,” she noted.
There were other opportunities on campus for students to keep centered. The “Stress Buster” event organized by the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services included relaxation strategies, cookies and milk, massages for students, and another cuddly dog to pet.
The Mindfulness Mediation workshops were also a draw, helping attendees learn techniques to quiet their minds and awaken their spirits. “Students seem to be understanding that practicing mindfulness and meditation is not just a luxury of relaxation,” said Holly Mensching, a clinical staff member, “it is necessary for mental and physical health and wellness, as well as personal and professional success during the college years and beyond.”