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New Jersey College Goes To The Dogs To Aid Stress Relief

By BRIAN THOMPSON For nbcnewyork.com

Put two Huskies, a chocolate Lab, a Sheltie, a Belgian Sheep Dog and a Wheaton Terrier together at a college during finals and you get pet therapy for students.

“I have a huge math exam and I’m freaking out,” said Sarah Wallman, 19, a Sophomore from Teaneck, N.J. who was happily petting one of the dogs brought in to the Student Center at Caldwell College.

The idea for the therapy dogs comes from the Counseling Department on campus as an effort to ease the pressures on students at final exam time.

Robin Davenport, Director of Counseling, explained that they tried stress balls and Candy canes in the past, then decided dogs may help ease the minds of students as well.

“We’re very much aware of the way pets can have a calming effect on people,” said Davenport.

So Caldwell reached out to Therapy Dogs International, and the St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center to rustle up enough dogs for dozens of students to pet and hug during their roughly two hour stay on campus Tuesday.

“They’re loving, they’re kind, and they’re totally nonjudgmental,” said Karen Barel, 58, from Therapy Dogs International.

Her dog, Jade–a Belgian Tervaren sheep dog, has been to hospitals and schools for autistic children, but this was her first assignment with stressed-out college students and she seemed to pass with flying colors.

“When you have seven finals, any break you can get is a sense of relief,” said Stephanie Zimbaldi, 21 and a Senior.

“And they’re very calming,” Zimbaldi added.

While seemingly unique, we found out that this is not the first time therapy dogs have been used to ease student stress.

The University of Connecticut brought in several dogs Monday and they will continue to be brought in all week at its Homer Babbidge Library.

“One of our female students absolutely loved it and it made her feel better,” Sharon McDermott, a Program Assistant in the School of Engineering, told NBCNewYork.

The Library’s Director for Undergraduate Education and Access Services, Scott Kennedy, said the idea on his campus came from a staffer and was begun during finals week last Spring.

“It was highly successful,” said Kennedy, who estimated as many as two to three hundreds students a day have so far taken advantage of the program that UConn calls “Paws to Relax.”

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