UC Irvine students have discovered the secret to staying calm before and during midterms and finals: cuddle sessions with furry, four-legged friends. Nine lovable canines came to campus Tuesday, Nov. 19, to sooth the nerves of Anteaters anxious about upcoming finals. The visit – which has become something of a campus tradition – was made possible by a partnership between UCI Libraries and Paws 4 Healing.
The physical and mental health benefits of interacting with animals are numerous and include a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol and decreases in heart rate and blood pressure, according to Paws 4 Healing, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization run by a group of experienced therapy dog handlers.
Mokie, a 7-year-old Chihuahua-corgi mix, attended the event with his handler, Donna Martin, president of Paws 4 Healing. Besides college campuses, he also visits hospitals and rehabilitation centers.
“He’s a charmer,” Martin said. “He loves the college kids, especially the girls. He’s just interested in people and senses what needs to be done to help them relax and have fun.”
The visit also fulfills UCI Libraries’ Promise for Education campaign pledge, as the organization promised to host a pet therapy day if it reached its fundraising goal of $1,000.
Cathy Palmer, head of education and outreach at UCI Libraries, said the event – which took place in front of Langson Library – was also an opportunity to cure “library anxiety,” or that daunted feeling some students get when navigating Langson’s vast resources.
“It’s a chance for us to make a connection in an informal, fun setting,” Palmer said. “It’s very overwhelming for a student to wander around the library for hours in frustration. We want to show them that our reference librarians are here to help them and make the library feel less intimidating.”
Denise Perez, a first-year psychology & social behavior major, joined a crowd gathered around Brody, a surfing Labradoodle.
“Dogs just take your mind off things that are stressing you out,” Perez said. “They make you happy just by their presence.”
Celina Gore, a senior in economics, can vouch for the benefits of animal-assisted stress reduction. As a member of the UC Irvine student group Active Minds, she has worked with pet therapy groups in the past to bring animals to campus.
“Being able to hold a pet really relieves stress, and it reminds a lot of students of being home with their animals,” Gore said. “When you’re holding a cute, furry puppy, it’s easy to forget about the big paper that’s due.”