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Take a break (and a deep breath) with therapy dogs.

By Jennifer Nozawa, public relations specialist, College of Social Work

There is tension in the air… and it’s not all related to politics.  As we inch our way closer and closer to the end of the semester, our campus community is also dealing with the usual stress of final exams, big presentations, group projects, lengthy papers and looming due dates.  So… THERAPY DOGS!  (Need we say more?)

img_8613cropThis semester the College of Social Work is bringing the campus a slightly-earlier-than-usual opportunity to “Pause for Paws”—the paws of visiting therapy dogs.  Registered teams from Therapy Animals of Utah will be in the College of Social Work’s atrium on Wednesday, Nov. 30, and Friday, Dec. 2 11 a.m.-1 p.m.  Students, faculty and staff from across campus are invited to take a short break from their stress by visiting with these talented volunteer teams.

Interaction with dogs, cats and other animals can help reduce a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels.  Anecdotally, many people already know this.  But there’s also plenty of research that backs it up and indicates that animal-assisted therapy (AAT)—the service provided by Therapy Animals of Utah’s animal-handler teams—can do even more.

In 2007, then-Master of Social Work student Janelle Nimer and associate professor of social work Brad Lundahl conducted the first comprehensive meta-analysis of AAT research.  Their study (published in the journal Anthrozoös) found consistent evidence that AAT could help people improve their emotional well-being, as well as help with Autism spectrum symptoms, medical difficulties and behavioral issues.  Since then, an increasing number of medical, mental health and other human service professionals around the world have paired established therapeutic interventions with AAT in an effort to improve client outcomes.  In fact, Nimer now teaches a master’s-level social work class that helps social work students learn ways to incorporate AAT into therapeutic practice with a variety of clients.

Since Paws for Paws was introduced in 2013, the biannual event has become a favorite of many students.  During previous Pause for Paws events, students have reported that just a couple minutes with the therapy dogs (and occasionally a therapy cat) melts away the stress of finals, puts a smile on their faces and reenergizes them to tackle the rest of the semester.