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Therapy dogs soothe stressed out students

Students relax with Paris, a certified therapy dog. Preface Photo/TRICIA MCCANN

Students relax with Paris, a certified therapy dog.
Preface Photo/TRICIA MCCANN

By Tricia McCann
Staff Writer

With midterms abound, stress is anything but uncommon. Even more uncommon are dogs on campus. Ready with a shake, kiss and tail wag, many therapy dogs were prepared to help students unwind.

Led by Kathryn Piekarski of the Sociology and Anthropology department along with her certified therapy dog Paris, nearly 131 students were able to relax and socialize before their tests. By partnering with Disability Services and Jim Hurst from the IU South Bend Counseling Center, Kathryn was able to host this event at the student housing study room. All of the dogs brought to the event are certified through Therapy Dogs International.

“We really wanted to stress that it is national depression awareness week, that’s why we are piloting this program here,” Piekarski said. “It’s really important for IU students who are so non-traditional, they are juggling their families, their job plus all their academic work. It can really be overwhelming. By coming here it’s a happy environment, they are smiling. The dogs are the ice breaker.”

Students began by filing out a release form and were able to spend as much time as they wanted with the dogs. When entering the room, the atmosphere was very welcoming as Paris, a black standard poodle, walked right up to students and greeted them with a generous amount of dog kisses. A circle of students formed and one-by-one, Paris and his canine friends walked around and offered their floppy ears to anyone who needed to let loose. Aside from Piekarski and Paris, volunteer Pat Clark brought Romy, her Springer Spaniel, Jan Caudell brought her dogs Emmy and Lily, and Jill Cecil brought her husky Tikaa to join in the event.

“I love dogs. It’s a nice breakaway,” said Karrie Jean, student. “I’m on campus from eight to ten and it’s like I’m not even on campus here.”

A common consensus was held by many students who missed their pets at home or shared their love of animals. Many students began to open up and have conversations as they discussed the dogs and their classes.

“I miss my dogs and I miss my animals,” said Wesley Kuric, student. I live on campus where we aren’t allowed pets and I love dogs. It’s been a great experience and Paris is awesome.”

In light of National Depression Awareness week, both Piekarski and the IUSB Counseling Center wanted students to know about the resources on campus for anyone who is feeling down or stressed, and that there are resources available on campus for them.

“Depression is something that affects everyone,” Piekarski said. “We want to be able to recognize everyone here, faculty and staff too that we are in a highly stressful environment. We are here for everyone. I’m hoping to put smiles on all the people’s faces that are here, I want to relive stress and anxiety for anyone walking in and one of the important things I hope people leaving here will be able to spread the word to others about what a positive experience they had.”

If you missed the event last week, both Piekarski and Hurst are hoping to host another event during finals week. IU South Bend’s Counseling Center is in the Administration Building, room 130. Hours of operation vary by semester. For information or to set up an appointment call 520-4125. Counseling is free and confidential for all students.

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