School of nursing hosts “Hoppy Hour,” pet therapy

Reagan Ritterbush

For nursing senior Ashley Saenz, snuggling with rabbit Marbles was “ear”-resistible.

Saenz, along with other nursing students, were in the School of Nursing courtyard with roughly 15 other animals on Thursday. The event, called “Hoppy Hour,” was held as part of a self-care initiative by the School of Nursing to help students lower their stress levels.

“Studies have shown that pets help us relax and, I mean, we all really could use the stress relief,” said Cindy Taylor, a grants and contract specialist for the School of Nursing.

Provided by the traveling petting zoo Tiny Tails to You, some of the animals included rabbits Inky and Bam Bam, the bearded lizard Poncho, baby chicks and guinea pigs Nugget and Hershey.

Tiny Tails visits Austin events ranging from birthday parties to bars. Preston Cox, a trained animal handler for Tiny Tails, said most of the animals are either rescued or purchased by the Tiny Tails owners.

“People are usually looking to re-home their animals and we jump in to take them,” Cox said. “Most of these animals spend the rest of their lives as members of the petting zoo.”

Snuggling with Bam Bam, nursing senior Grace Deas said she forgot all her problems and it immediately calmed her heart rate.

“There is more to life than midterms, school and jobs,” Deas said. “Sometimes the simple truth is that all we need to be happy is a cute, furry animal.”

Cox said he loves his job because he enjoys watching how quickly an animal can comfort someone.

“When you’re holding or petting something soft, it feels like your stress levels go down astronomically,” Cox said, holding Hershey. “But I also know this comfort thing goes both ways because, just like humans, animals want to be loved and held. So even though we think the rabbit or dog is helping us, we’re really helping them too.”

Saenz said the main reason she comes to so many pet therapy events is because the animals remind her of her own animals back home.

“One of the hardest things about coming to college is leaving your animals behind,” Saenz said. “You don’t realize it until you leave, but it always hurts. Being at these events brings me back to my pets and assures me I can make it until I go home again to see them.”

Cox told students not to worry, Tiny Tails will definitely be back for finals.