UT should provide in-house therapy pets for students

Faith DuFresne, Columnist

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the October 19 flipbook.

There’s no denying that making the move to an entirely new city is intimidating. It’s incredibly overwhelming, exciting, scary and altogether unprecedented. Students leave families, friends and their whole lives behind to get a fresh start in college. While homesickness is a common condition that ails most students at one time or another, leaving a furry friend behind can make it that much harder to cope. 

UT needs to provide a program that allows therapy pets to frequent academic centers to help alleviate the stress of being a college student. Pets provide a sense of comfort, belonging and companionship few other things in life can replicate. Though research on human-animal relationships is still new, studies have shown that interacting with animals has reduced cortisol levels and blood pressure, two symptoms that tend to rise when under stress — something college students are more than prone to.

Public relations freshman Dagmawit Worke explained that while the idea of therapy pets on campus is new to her, she feels it would be beneficial to students across campus.

“I feel like there can be a direct sense of comfort that comes with animals that is often harder to find at college,” Worke said. “Having small connections, even if it’s with a dog on a day to day basis, … can be a great comfort source for a lot of students.” 

Students not only feel stress from being out of their comfort zone but must also keep up with varying assignments, tests and projects. Having therapy pets on campus in popular student study centers, such as the William C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center or the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center, would be a conducive outlet to release that stress. 

Dr. Jennifer Maedgen, a senior associate vice president in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, explained the current situation with pets on campus.

“They are allowed in University Housing but not allowed in other buildings at this point. I think if we were to allow them in other buildings, it would probably be on a case by case basis and there would have to be some sort of review process to determine if it was a reasonable accommodation,” Maedgen said.

Maedgen added that while the University doesn’t have its own service for students, it could sponsor more events that allow students to interact with pets. However, those events would be on a volunteer basis, and the process requires the interested groups to register through Environmental Health Services.

Numerous universities have pets on campus for students to visit throughout the semester or during midterm and finals season. Colleges such as Kent State University and Miami University are among the many that allow students to interact with pets to reduce stress.

If UT wants to provide a community for students, the University should offer students the ability to relieve stress and find comfort in their home away from home through therapy pets. Stress can not only deteriorate the mental health of students, but it also wears them down physically and emotionally. Pets in student study centers would allow students to take a break and relax before getting back to changing the world. 

Hardworking students deserve fun ways to cope with stress, and pets provide just that.

DuFresne is a journalism freshman from Dallas, Texas.