Pet Therapy Session at USM Gulf Park

The holiday season has just begun but it’s also the end of the semester and finals week for some local college students. News 25’s Kristen Durand shows us how the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park campus is using pets to calm exam week jitters.
Just the thought of microbiology, calculus and physics would scare most of us but biology major Alex Sullivan will be put to the test in all of these areas as USM’s exam week gets into full swing. “I’m actually about to go take a final for microbiology, gosh I’m nervous,” said Sullivan.
But Sullivan and others are getting a little help from their friends, new friends of the four-legged variety who are on standby at the Fleming Education Center this week, eager to visit with frazzled students during their breaks between tests. Coordinator for Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi Patsy Thomas said, “Blood pressure is so high when they’re taking these exams. When they get here they have a sense of normalcy again, so even if they have dogs at home, they feel like they’re at home.”
Studies show that spending time with therapy dogs can actually reduce anxiety and create a calming effect, leaving students a little less stressed after spending time with them. “I enjoy the company of the dogs, they’re really sweet. They help lower the stress levels that I’ve been experiencing all weekend about studying. When I see them, they’re really helpful. I really hope to see them again next time we have finals,” said Sullivan.
The dogs were brought back by popular demand after their first time visiting last year. Campus leaders hope to have the dogs back twice a year from now on, during the fall and spring semesters. Interim Provost Casey Maugh-Funderburk said, “For them to have this opportunity to take a little break, to pet a dog, which is totally unrelated to what they’ve been worried about and thinking about, is excellent because it just has this moment where they can take a deep breath and de-stress.”
Sullivan said, “Definitely, I feel way more relaxed going into my next exam.”
The dogs will be back on campus tomorrow for students who need a break from 10 to 11 a.m. then again from 1 to 2 p.m.

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