When sophomore communications and marketing major Spencer Palmer adopted his dog, Buddha, he said he had no clue what to expect. He soon received more than $5,100 in veterinarian bills after Buddha tore his anterior cruciat(ACL) and required surgery.
Yet despite being in college, Palmer said he wouldn’t do anything less for his closest, furriest companion.
“I’m busy with school and life, but when I’m with him it completely takes my mind off everything,” he said. “Being around him takes away all my stress because I’m able to focus entirely on him.”
Palmer is one of many students buying into dog therapy, a growing trend among stressed college students, said Beach Animals Reading with Kids (BARK) director Josie Gavieres. Although she said dogs need time, money and neutering or spaying, which can cost between $250 and $500, more people are discovering that animal contact can make a significant difference in relaxation and state of mind.
National Geographic published an article in 2002 citing a St. Louis research study in which scientists tested hospital patients who spent time with therapy dogs. It found that patients felt less lonely after visiting with the dogs for just half an hour a week compared to those who did not. The research also revealed that after time with the dogs, patients had slower heart rates and required less pain medicine.
Palmer said he never predicted the impact his dog would have on his life.
“He’s my best friend and I’m willing to pay anything for him,” he said. “I get all my joy from him and when he’s hurting, I am too.”
Gavieres said that sense of dog therapy is why she founded BARK, a volunteer organization that uses trained dogs to help students and hospital patients with stress, with only a few dogs on her team in 2007. Today, the program has grown to more than 160 dogs. Gavieres said she has seen children go from being extremely introverted and shy to confident and comfortable in less than eight weeks with the dogs.
“The dogs take away all the judgment and accept your attention with gratitude,” she said. “The dog doesn’t ask for anything in return and loves everything you give them.”
However, Gavieres said while dogs can help with stress, owning a dog is a major responsibility and should not be taken lightly.
“Dogs need to be exercised both mentally and physically,” she said. “It’s better when people are settled down with a set life direction so that they can be responsible for the dog.”
Yet that didn’t stop sophomore environmental science major Ali Patton, who bought a dog when she said she missed her own from home.
“I wanted something my boyfriend and I could take care of together,” she said. “I get stressed a lot with school, and it’s great because when I walk Moose it totally clears my head.”
Last semester, freshman screen acting major Kayla Topp also found canine benefits after attending Furry Friends for Finals, an event started in 2009 by a student health club to share dogs with students on campus during a stressful time of the semester.
“Seeing the dogs made me happy and relaxed for the rest of the day,” she said. “I felt so motivated afterwards because I wasn’t stressed anymore.”
Even though the dogs only come to Chapman’s campus during finals week, Gavieres said all universities should have a dog on campus. Similar to a counselor, the dog would provide a quick distraction from students’ hectic lives.
“Every time you see a dog your face breaks into a giant smile,” she said. “Even just seeing the dog would brighten any student’s day.”