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Therapy dogs offer some 'good energy' for Manchester Community College students

Austin Mirmina / Journal Inquirer | Published on 12/8/2021

Therapy Dogs - Journal Inquirer

Tails of Joy is a nonprofit, animal-assisted therapy organization that has been visiting MCC and other Connecticut colleges for about the past 12 years, founding member Laurel Rabschutz said.

“We realize that many college students are away from home for the first time … there’s a lot of stress,” Rabschutz said. “We started doing (visits) with colleges and it really took off.”

The all-volunteer organization enlists 20 dogs for its college visiting team, Rabschutz said. On Monday, students visited with Wrigley, Oliver, and Jake, all of whom came equipped with personalized business cards that included adorable photos and a list of their favorite activities.

Wrigley is a 6-year-old, 140-pound Newfoundland with a long, fluffy fur coat. Wrigley wore a red bib with Tails of Joy inscribed on it, and sat obediently for students as they took turns petting his neck and scratching behind his ears.

MCC freshman Paige Young said she enjoys big dogs like Wrigley because “they have such a good energy to them.” She said visiting the dogs allowed her to take her mind off other responsibilities.

“It’s definitely a time to relax and stop thinking about everything else for a little bit,” Young said.

Oliver, an energetic, 2-year-old white boxer, leaped onto Wurst on Monday morning and smothered him with kisses. Across the hall, Jake, a 2-year-old golden retriever, performed tricks while wearing a red bandana and a pointy Christmas hat.

Scientific studies show that simply being in the same room as a companion animal helps reduce stress levels and lowers the heart rate, Rabschutz said. However, a lot of the evidence her organization relies on is anecdotal, she added.

“We’re hoping on some level it can help students out a little bit, even if it just gives them something a little different to think about during the day,” Rabschutz said.

The two-day pet therapy sessions are geared toward helping students relax before their final exams that start on Wednesday. Paula Pini, associate director of MCC’s Raymond F. Damato Library, said she expects a lower turnout of students this year because a majority of them are still taking classes remotely.

“We used to have students lined up and waiting in the hallways” for pet therapy before the pandemic, Pini said.

Pet therapy also provides relief for the faculty members.

Adjunct professor Sara Berry joked that attending pet therapy gives her a break from grading the exams. Berry said she always encourages her students to attend and enjoys seeing them interact with the animals.

Although high school junior Elyra Claudio, who attends Great Path Academy on the MCC campus, doesn’t have to experience the dread of finals week, she said she still has tests coming up before winter break. Visiting the therapy dogs “is pretty calming,” she said.

Two MCC freshmen, Kristina Deshazo-Pezold and Ivette Fabian, said they were both feeling stressed ahead of their first final exams as college students. They said they stopped by to see the dogs before heading off to start a sociology paper, and they anticipated returning later in the day.

“It’s nice to break up the monotony,” Deshazo-Pezold said.

Austin Mirmina is the Journal Inquirer's business reporter and also covers the town of Windsor.

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