Pause for Paws aims to make exam season less “ruff”

2015 redesigned Pioneer logo.

Tam Duong Jr.

2015 redesigned Pioneer logo.

Britney Yarbrough,

Therapy dogs can relieve student stress and promote mental health

On Oct. 18, volunteers from the Valley Humane Society brought their certified therapy dogs to the Library courtyard on Hayward’s Cal State East Bay campus, where they spent a few hours just hanging out. During this “Pause for Paws” event, students were encouraged to pet or play with the animals as a way to get their minds off of exams or even just for a little fun between classes.

Campus health director, Elizabeth Ghobrial teamed up with Student Health and Counseling Services and the Valley Humane Society to put together the event which aimed to relieve student/faculty stress, during high stress seasons like midterm exams. A SHCS booth provided informational handouts promoting the Calm and Clear Mindfulness Workshop and Trauma Sensitive Yoga.

Students who live on campus often have to leave their animals back home with their families, so seeing dogs on campus just before taking an exam can be a simple way to lift their spirits. “We just want to bring some comfort and light to students,” Ghobrial said.

World Mental Health day, started in 1992, is observed every year on Oct.10. According to the World Federation for Mental Health, the day aims to promote mental health and to educate the public on relevant issues. Ghobrial organized the Pause for Paws event last year in the same month as World Mental Health Day to emphasize the mental and physical well being of students.

She hosts her event twice a quarter around high stress seasons such as midterms and finals. Human interaction with animals promotes the release of hormones such as serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, which all play a part in mood elevation according to UCLA Health’s People Animal Connection (PAC).

Student Health and Counseling Services at CSUEB offers online mental health screenings for students where a brief questionnaire is followed by results, recommendations, and resources that can be used, according to Shauna Olson Hong, Director of Counseling. When asked about how many students actually seek help on campus, she replied, “More students than you would think.”

Phil and Debbie Wanlin, a volunteer couple from the Canine Comfort team with the Valley Human Society, were accompanied by their two Labradors, Steph and Posey, at the event. Many students approached the dogs and couple with excitement due to the fact that it was not their first Pause for Paws event.

“We came about six times last year,” Debbie said. The couple have taken Steph and Posey to offer their comfort at Bay Area High Schools and memory care units as well.

The Valley Humane Society offers various events with Canine Comfort such as Paws to Heal, where the animals visit hospitals, children’s cancer units or senior housing for example, and also Paws to read which promotes literacy and love for animals in children ages 5 -12.     The Valley Humane Society volunteers will be returning at the end of fall quarter, as the next Pause for Paws event is scheduled for Nov. 29.