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Exam Week Goes to the Dogs

Animals Often Have Calming Effect on Stressed-Out Humans

May 8, 2014

Shelby Jeffries cuddles with Rosie in a welcome respite from exam week.

Shelby Jeffries cuddles with Rosie in a welcome respite from exam week.

Wilmington College students had an opportunity to deal with the stress of this week’s (May 5-8) final exams and semester-ending papers and projects with a little help from man’s best friend.

Therapy dogs and other friendly canines were stationed in the Robinson Communication Center lobby where students could drop by for a relaxing dose of Rosie, Atticus. Betsy, Henry or Curtis.

These are either registered service dogs or ones whose owners were confident their history ensures them to be friendly and non-threatening in normal situations.

Junior Shelby Jeffries spent a half hour petting and hugging Rosie, a Shiloh Shepherd.

“She’s comforting and shows so much affection,” she said, noting that exam week can be stressful and a brief respite in the presence of dogs can put a more pleasant spin on the day.

“Students can relax a bit — the dogs get their mind off exams,” Jeffries said. “I feel in a much more positive mood. I’m not dreading going into exams, so I can go on with my day on a much happier note.”

(LEFT) Kurt Fortkamp plays with Atticus, a Shiloh Shepherd.

Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and affection to persons in hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, hospices and disaster areas. Their penchant for friendliness to strangers and often calm and gentle demeanor has resulted in enhancing relaxation, lowering blood pressure and relieving stress in many.

Finals week on college campuses is known for heightened levels of stress in many students. The College wanted to provide students with an opportunity to take a break from their studies — and anxiety — to experience the calming effect of interacting with these canine good citizens.

Richard McCarren, who earned a Master of Education from WC in 2008, brought Curtis, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix that is a retired pet therapy service dog. He is a dog trainer and raises puppies to become service dogs.

“A large portion of the service dog industry is a Golden, Lab or mix,” he said. “They want to please and they like to work.”

Curtis, who came to him knowing 40 commands, includes among his skills an ability to turn on and off lights, close doors and pick up items as small and thin as a credit card.

(LEFT) Jalyn Thomas spends some time on horseback at an event sponsored by the equestrian team. Team member Kelsey Stone is assisting.

Judy Harvey, assistant professor of English and coordinator of the Writing Center, organized the event and wished to thank those that volunteered their dogs.

“I’m pleasantly surprised with the number of students that came this week and how appreciative they’ve been,” she said. “Many students said, ‘Great idea. We need to do this all the time.’”

One of those was Kurt Fortkamp, a junior who is studying to become a veterinarian. He enjoyed spending time with Curtis.

“The dogs are calming and have a real carefree attitude,” he said, noting he has a Golden Retriever/German Shepherd mix at home. “I came here after finishing two exams this morning with one more to go tomorrow. This gave me a chance to forget about exams for a while.

“I love being with animals.”

The presence of therapy dogs comes on the heels of a similar opportunity offered last week by the College’s equestrian team.

Ronald Reagan said, “There’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.” The team took that to heart May 1 by offering an afternoon of pony rides at the Equine Center for students, faculty and staff.

Freshman Jalyn Thomas said spending 10 minutes on horseback provided a welcome break from the hectic end of the semester routine.

“That was my first time riding in awhile,” Thomas said. “Just doing something different like that really changed up my day— I’m definitely happier. You can really connect with horses.”