By: Molly Maczik
May 23rd, 2022
There is nothing better than coming home to a friendly, furry friend—especially for those who don’t live with one while at college and wait weeks to experience those slobbery kisses and wags of excitement. It can be comforting having an animal to cuddle and give love to in times of stress or loneliness.
Being a student comes with a heavy workload between classes, work, studying and socializing. To combat the stress and anxiety of college, Michigan State University invites therapy dogs and their owners on campus to interact with students. This typically happens during exam time when students are under high pressure and need a break to relax and relieve stress. According to a 2014 article by Steve Carmody of Michigan Radio, “MSU is one of many schools around the country that use therapy dogs to ease student stress during finals week.”
Even the simplicity of playing with and petting a dog can boost motivation and productivity, according to the American Heart Association. Having dogs on campus allows students to be able to take a short break to have some leisure time without having to travel far from their place of study.
“One thing that I do miss about living back at home is my dogs, so having the opportunity to be able to get attention from any sort of furry friend was just what I needed during exams,” MSU student Savanah Swartz said.
Those who use an animal to cope with stress, anxiety and depression tend to give a large amount of care and love to it, and many students choose to get their own pet while still in college. With cuddles, food, a proper environment and a bunch of attention, a dog can happily live with a college student, but space and time can limit students’ ability to care for themselves, let alone a pet.
Having a dog in college can be tough, especially in a small apartment or crowded house. Students often live in small spaces with little to no yard; they stay busy with classes, extracurriculars and friends. Most college students have little money and need to focus on groceries and toiletries rather than raising an animal. It almost seems unfair to have a dog in college because of the circumstances. But for some, the benefits outweigh the negatives.
Individuals who struggle with depression will often feel lost day-to-day, left without a daily routine or motivation to even get up. Having a dog forces these individuals to get up and have a daily routine. A dog needs to be fed, taken on walks and played with daily, leaving no room for the owner to lay in bed all day. Even when that person doesn’t feel like taking care of themselves, they are forced to take care of their dog. Having a dog and taking care of it can often boost a person’s mood, especially someone who is struggling with depression, because they feel a sense of accomplishment.
The comfort of a dog not only helps with the loneliness of depression, but it also helps when someone is feeling anxious or experiences frequent anxiety. According to Will Tottle at Psychologies Magazine, “hugging your dog releases oxytocin in your body, and this is the hormone that lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and can help you to feel calmer. Stroking them has the same effect, giving you the comfort you need to know that everything is going to be ok and that you are not dying.”
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common reason why people invest in an emotional support dog. Besides having a dog to make them happy when in the comfort of their home, some people can register their dog to become an emotional support dog; this allows them to be able to take it into public places that don’t typically allow dogs. It can also help with apartment pet rent and dormitory exemptions. These dogs can be big or small, but the most common breeds for this type of dog are golden retrievers, labradors, and German shepherds.
Certifying an emotional support dog requires documentation from a health care provide. The individual needs proof of diagnosis and that their condition meets the criteria of a disability set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The next step is matching the individual with a dog that meets their needs. This can be determined by a few characteristics, like how much prior training the dog has. There are a variety of resources and programs that match a dog with their new owner. Some will even choose to train the dog themselves depending on their qualifications and condition.
Although dogs can sometimes add extra stress to one’s plate, they have great benefits for those who struggle with their mental health. Even if it comes down to a quick burst of serotonin from puppy kisses, they never fail to put a smile on a dog-lover’s face. They can be a great companion for anyone who wants to feel protected or less lonely and needs motivation to get up in the morning!
Molly Maczik is a fourth year undergraduate majoring in professional and public writing. She currently works as an online fitness coach and hopes to continue her fitness business post-college while integrating the writing and editing techniques she has learned in the past 4 years. When she’s not at the gym, she likes to spend time with friends and family and be outside. You can follow her fitness account on Instagram @mgfiiiit for all things fitness, nutrition, mindset and lifestyle.