For some 10 years, Pluto has brought smiles to the faces of countless patients at Orange County hospitals. But the 12-year-old yellow Labrador retriever was given another job during finals week — making the year-end tests less stressful for UC Irvine students with disabilities.
On Wednesday and Thursday, June 8 and 9, six teams of therapy pets — five dogs and a black bunny named Button — and their handlers greeted students at the UCI Disability Services Center before the students took their final exams in the center’s testing rooms.
Center director Jan Serrantino believes a few moments spent petting and hugging a tail-waggin’ buddy can lighten what tends to be an anxiety-filled time. Studies have shown pet therapy to lower blood pressure, lessen depression and reduce anxiety.
“I’ve seen the happiness that dogs can bring students,” she says. “And I thought it would be wonderful to offer this during finals week, to give our students some much-needed lighthearted moments.”
Serrantino contacted Paws4Healing, an affiliate of the Delta Society, to bring the therapy animals to campus. The pet-and-handler teams are trained to comfort patients facing long recoveries.
Pluto and his pet friends were making their first appearance at the center, which provides services and support for students with disabilities. But they’ll be back. Serrantino plans to have them return for finals week next year, too.