BY MEREDITH MASON
Featured in Report From Newport: Winter 2014
Office of Campus Life brings pet therapy to residence halls.
Ask the average college student how he or she feels during final exam week, and the answer is almost always the same: stressed. While college provides a great opportunity for students to become independent, make new friends and live in a community, being away from home and constant schoolwork can create periods of anxiety.
To help students cope with the stress of homesickness and classwork, administration of justice professor and department chairwoman Dr. Robin Hoffmann teamed up wit Jennifer Rosa, assistant director for campus life, to bring pet therapy to Salve Regina’s residence halls.
The star of the program is Sasha, Hoffmann’s 6-year old miniature apricot poodle, a completely hypoallergenic and registered therapy dog.
“Not only do residents enjoy petting him, watching him do tricks and feeding him treats, but Dr. Hoffmann is able to connect with so many students outside the classroom,” Rosa says. “When playing with Sasha, students tell stories about their own pets they miss and share pictures. Sasha serves as a way to relieve stress and combat homesickness, since so many of our students miss their home and pets when they come to school.”
Last spring, Hoffmann worked with Dr. Margaret Higgins, vice president for student affairs to launch the pet therapy program. What started out as a “stress buster” event during final exams has since turned into weekly pet therapy sessions. This past fall, Hoffmann, Rosa and Sasha met with hundreds of students in freshmen and sophomore residence halls over the course of eight weeks.
Hoffmann and Rosa believe in the benefits of bringing pet therapy into college residence halls, and they are not alone. The advantages of pet therapy are well documented, from scholarly articles to studies demonstrating that interacting with pets reduces blood pressure, lowers anxiety and mitigates self-reported depression among college students.
And while Hoffmann might be somewhat biased in favor of Sasha’s extraordinary qualities, she says the benefits of the program are tangible.
“Sasha’s most notable qualities are his sweetness and joyfulness,” Hoffmann adds. “He is such a sweet, happy dog who has the softest coat imaginable. It’s a treat just to pet him. During out last visit, one of our students described him as looking like cotton candy.”
Hoffmann believes Salve Regina is on the cutting edge by integrating this program into campus life, and this semester, she and Rosa will continue their pet therapy programming. According to Rosa, several student resident advisers have already contacted the Office of Campus Life to invite Hoffmann and Sasha to visit upperclassmen residence halls as well.
“This is something really meaningful we can do,” Hoffmann adds. “I love Salve, Sasha, and the students, so here is a way I can contribute on a whole different level.”