Dog owner Joan Danzansky loves her golden retriever Biscuit, but it wasn't until after a friend's suggestion to certify a dog she had previously owned as a therapy dog that she realized how much she enjoys watching the love and attention others give to Biscuit as well.
Stress is consistently ranked as "the number-one impediment to academic success," for students across the country, said Sarah Wilson, the health and wellness coordinator at the University Health Center.
To help reduce stress, the health center is partnering with the organization People. Animals. Love. to bring therapy dogs to the University of Maryland for Wags for Wellness, a new program held at the health center on the last Monday of every month.
"I love the young students and [Biscuit] likes it, too. I like it when people like her," Danzansky, a PAL certified dog handler, said. "I do a lot of training and work with her, so I love when she is appreciated, too."
Wilson said she hopes Wags for Wellness will help students relieve stress in a unique way, and therapy dogs seemed to be a great solution to the problem because of the attention and love they provide.
"Students are able to come in and play with the dogs, love with the dogs and just be there and feel that comfort and support," she said.
The program, which began this semester, is not the only event on the campus where therapy dogs are used for stress relief — however, it is the first program committed to bringing the dogs on a monthly basis, Wilson said.
Students play with therapy dogs that are owned and trained by volunteers who certify their dogs with the PAL program, according to PAL's website. These dogs must be obedient, nonaggressive, friendly and calm in a variety of environments, such as hospitals and college campuses, Danzansky said.
People are often stressed in a variety of ways and by different things, meaning they also handle stress in various ways, Wilson said, which is why the health center tried to find something "a bit different" to provide new ways for students to relax.
"Our campus has so many different offerings for people to deal with their stress, and dogs are a really great way," Wilson said. "Being surrounded by any type of animal, but particularly dogs, really brings this calming and stress-relieving presence to people, and particularly students."
Sophomore Logan Miller, who previously attended Wags for Wellness, said she knew it was "a really good way to reduce stress, especially with anxieties for midterms coming up."
"I think mental health is really important, and this is a perfect way to let loose, have some fun and enjoy some dog loving," the biology major said.
After very little advertising, the health center hosted its first Wags for Wellness event last month, which already attracted many more people than expected, Wilson said.
"When people hear about dogs on-campus, word-of-mouth works really well," Wilson said.
Sophomore education major Scott Czarnecki said he attended after hearing about the program from a friend, and wanted to check it out because of the opportunity it provided to interact with the dogs.
"I just love dogs," Czarnecki said. "It makes my day, and it is definitely a big stress reliever."
Therapy dogs on college campuses is a growing trend, Wilson said, and she hopes Wags for Wellness continues for many semesters.
"My biggest hope is that somebody can really find that comfort and compassion that they're looking for," Wilson said. "I'm so happy that we have it here at the University of Maryland."
The next Wags for Wellness event will be held on April 25 in the health center from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.