by Jess Sides | published Sep. 25th, 2018
On Sept. 11, 2018, the Wallace Library was filled with dogs spreading love to RIT students. This radiation of happiness can be rare among most college students, as stress levels can be incredibly high.
In fact, a recent study conducted with college students found that around 80 percent had attended at least one counseling session for stress, anxiety, depression or relationship issues. Out of that 80 percent, 57 percent were there for anxiety, 47 percent for stress and 46 percent for depression. Evidently some of the reasons students were attending counseling overlapped with one another. Additionally, around 10 percent of those in counseling were seriously considering committing suicide.
With that being said, this is a serious issue among college students nationwide, including those at RIT – but still, many students are afraid to seek help.
In one final startling statistic, it is stated that less than half of students with mental health issues actually look for help from their counselors. Even though the number of people suffering from mental health issues has skyrocketed over the past 20 years, many students still feel uncomfortable asking for help as counseling is still viewed as “taboo”. But there is one form of mental assistance that is widely accepted among most students: therapy dogs.
Therapy Dogs and Their Owners
Three dogs arrived at the Wallace Library with their respective owners around 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 11. Only a minute later, there was a massive crowd of students standing around waiting to pet the canines.
The three dogs were all wagging their tails when they caught sight ofthe students. There was Boe, a German Shepard, Willow, an American Lab and finally Molly, also a Lab.
Willow in particular took a shine to one specific boy. She climbed onto him, laid down in his lap and started licking his face. Not a person in the library failed to smile at this moment. Even Willow’s owner, Kay Coe, was so thrilled to see everyone’s smiles that a smile reached her own face as well.
Coe is a retired teacher who was inspired by her grandson to train Willow as a therapy dog.
"It is a wonderful and rewarding feat to spend time with Willow, train her and see her effect on the people she meets," Coe stated. "The best part of my job is seeing the stress just leave people’s bodies as they spend time with Willow."
Although many people may think it would be incredibly hard to stay professional when Willow is interacting with others, Coe stated that it is actually not hard at all.
"Willow and I spend plenty of quality time together," she explained further.
One might wonder how training a regular dog is different from training a therapy dog. Coe said they are essentially the same.
"It is all about discipline and getting them to behave," she stated. "One difference is that you need to focus hard on training them to block out some of the external noise around them, so they don’t get distracted."
Coe has also traveled all over the area with Willow and one of the other places they have visited is the Center for Addiction. The positive effect her dog ignited at the center amazed her.
"I could see the stress leaving the patients and they immediately were happier," she stated.
Coe has also visited assisted living facilities, but her favorite experience is going to her grandson's school. As mentioned before, her grandson was actually the one who inspired her to train Willow in therapy. Coe has gone with Willow many times to elementary schools where the kindergarteners and first graders read to Willow.
"My favorite part is watching the children react to Willow and seeing their faces light up while interacting with her," Coe said.
Overall, Coe loves to be a part of programs like this as she loves to see the stress flow out of the students. She also believes that these dogs are very beneficial to the students at RIT.
Inside the Mind of a Student
Many students at the event agreed that the dogs made them feel happy, relaxed, calm, welcomed and most of all they felt at home.
"I miss Turbo, my seven- year-old Black Lab. Turbo is actually a service dog for my brother. I miss taking care of him and the lack of companionship has left a void. Although, being with these dogs does feel like home," said Pat Sammon, a first year Computer Science and Cyber Security double major.
Handling RIT’s workload has been a bit stressful for Sammon. His ways of coping has been exercising and spending time with his friends. He believes that this program is beneficial to students here.
"We take time out of our day to stop working and see the happiness of a dog. It makes you feel like you’re at home and it brings good feelings to you," he said.
Sammon's favorite dog was Willow because of her energetic and outgoing personality.
"She looks excited to be here," Sammon added. "I love dogs!"
In regards to continuing this program, Sammon agreed that it should continue as it brings joy to others.
Joy Anderson, a first year Film and Animation major, also explained that she misses her cat extensively as her cat would always know when she was sad or stressed. She was not necessarily a lap cat, but she always got close to Anderson when she needed it. Although there were no therapy cats at this event, Anderson did say that being with these dogs reminded her of home and helped with the stress of college.
"It has been a difficult transition to campus life, but I have been coping by calling my parents and friends from home nearly everyday," she said. "Lots of the students here love animals and being around them helps to relieve stress."
Anderson spent most of her time with the dog Molly. She said that Molly is very calm and loves to lick and loves to be pet. Another student described Molly as docile.
When asked, Anderson also supported the continuation of this program.
The Future of Therapy Dogs
Students at the event believed that some changes could improve this program. There was a general agreement that more dogs would be beneficial because there was an overwhelming amount of interest and not enough dogs. Others said it would also be good to increase the frequency of the program. This would help those who have class during this time or couldn't make it for other reasons. This way everyone can get a chance to get some relief.
It was easy to see the positive effects that this program had on the students of RIT. Every person who walked in the library and watched, pet or spent time with the dogs ended up leaving the library smiling and with a little less weight on their shoulders.
"The stress practically evaporates into the air. It is incredible to see the amazing effects these dogs had on people," Coe said.