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‘Fur Time’: Therapy Dogs Help Students Adjust to College


Wide-eyed and sporting a huge smile, Julia Skoolicas bolted into an open-space area on the first floor of Carle Hall and planted a huge hug on Gus from Gilsum. A first-year student from Nashua, Skoolicas wasn’t greeting a relative or a friend, but a therapy dog taking part in Keene State’s Paws 2 Play program. “I have a dog at home that I really miss,” she said. “I’ve been having some problems adjusting to college, so it’s really nice to see the dogs. It’s really relaxing.”

Skoolicas was one of over 150 students who took part in the first session of the nine-week program that supports Keene State students in settling in to college life. The program, run by the Counseling Center in collaboration with Residence Life, was implemented on campus to help facilitate first year adjustment and help new students better connect to the College.

The dogs, who are provided by Monadnock Therapy Pets through the Humane Society, have been visiting with students for several years as part of the relaxation break during finals week. The enthusiasm generated by that event led to the Paws 2 Play program. “The first six to eight weeks is a critical period when freshmen are experiencing homesickness and adjustment issues,” said Dr. Joe Yazvac, a staff psychologist and interim training director in the Counseling Center. “The dogs help to reduce stress and help students feel calmer, reduce depressive symptoms, and improve physical health as well.”

Yazvac, who has been at the Counseling Center for six years, said that a critical part of the program is having faculty and staff at the event so students are able to informally meet and have a little bit of a dialogue with them outside of an official capacity. “It’s just wonderful to see the connection between the students and the dogs,” said Gloria Lodge, a member of the Academic and Career Advising staff. “I think it helps the students adjust, and if they have problems they know they have friends in the animals.”

The dogs attracted quite a crowd, with a long line stretching into the lobby at Carle Hall. “I’ve been looking forward to this all week,” said first-year student Danielle Marciniak, who has two puppies back home in Preston, CT. “The dogs make you happy and make you feel good.”

“I miss my three dogs back home, so it’s really great to see the dogs in the res hall,” said Kelsey Harper, a first-year student from Dudley, MA. “Everyone needs some fur time.”

The dogs and their owners also enjoy the experience. Boon, a six-year-old chocolate Lab, enjoyed the attention and the belly rubs. “This is his second year, so I guess he’s a sophomore,” said a laughing Peggy Brogan of Rindge. “I wish my children, when they were in college, had this opportunity, because I think it helps with the homesickness and gives them a nice little diversion. I just love seeing the students so happy.”

The weekly program will rotate among the different dorms on campus, giving students plenty of time to visit with the caring and lovable canines. Yazvac said that between 800 and 900 students will take part in the program during the semester.

After getting their cuddle time in, the students are asked to fill out a survey related to their general stress before and after meeting the dogs. However, the positive interaction between the students and the dogs said it all. Kelly Christie of Jaffrey, who brought her two-year-old Cavalier King Charles and cocker spaniel mix, spoke about one student who came to meet her dog. “There was a girl here a few minutes ago who said to me this is the best day ever. I’m so happy I came,” said Christie. “Dogs are the only creatures on earth that love people more than they love themselves.”

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