BLOG: Puppy Lab provides stress relief for students

Allison M Cooper
York Dispatch
NYC college student Alexa spends time with Tug McG in Central Park.

May can be a stressful month for college students. So much is riding on their success in college — student loans are looming, the job market is an enigma and the stress of finals can lead to the need for some serious stress relievers.

Those relievers can come in a number of forms, some healthier than others.

That's why one MIT graduate student sought a grant to create a stress-relieving lab where students could spend time in a calming environment — WITH PUPPIES!!!

In fall 2015, Ku submitted a hypothesis to the school's MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, which supports projects, activities and campaigns that promote mental health and well being at the college.

Innovation Fund | mindhandheart

In her proposal, Ku asserted that animal interaction could provide healing for campus staff, faculty and students. She was awarded space to set up her Puppy Lab, a space on campus where people could spend time petting puppies and where participants could evaluate their experiences. She determined that a couple days per week - for a couple of hours each day - the pets would be available for interaction.

MIT Puppy Lab to open during National Mental Health Awareness Month

May is also Mental Health Awareness Month a month aimed at advocating for and raising awareness about people affected by mental health conditions. One in five Americans will be faced with a mental health condition in their lifetime, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Additionally, according to the organization, every American will be touched by mental illness issues in their lifetime, if not with their own, then of those plaguing friends and loved ones.

College students can be particularly vulnerable to mental health issues including acute anxiety.

According to NAMI:

  • One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year.
  • More than 11 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated for anxiety in the past year and more than 10 percent reported being diagnosed or treated for depression.

So May, with its finals week and its mental health awareness tie, is an appropriate time to prove Ku's theory and provide solace for harried students and staffers.

After receiving the grant, Ku looked for volunteers to share their canine family members with others who would benefit from some time with them.

She organized on-campus sessions for dog-owning members of the MIT community to obtain training and certification through Dog B.O.N.E.S Therapy Dogs. “When I put out the call for training sessions, I was overwhelmed by the response,” Ku said. "I hope that this therapy dog model will catalyze the development of meaningful relationships between humans and canines alike.”

Welcome to Dog B.O.N.E.S.

Not only do the dogs provide stress relief and relief from the anxiety of student life, but dog owners are overwhelmingly generous when it comes to sharing their fur babies with stressed-out students.

The therapy dog movement has taken so many forms. And while it may be a business for some, it's also fueled by generous dog owners/lovers who experience firsthand the unconditional love and joy that spending time with their pets can provide.