Pet patting therapy helps ease student tensions

Edinburgh University student Keely Sarr meets Lily. Picture: Greg Macvean
Edinburgh University student Keely Sarr meets Lily. Picture: Greg Macvean
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ONCE upon a time the answer to student stress was a couple of extra pints down the pub. Now, in a bid to tackle the pressures of exams, holding down a part-time job and trying to make ends meet, university chiefs have called in the dogs.

Labrador Nina, King Charles Spaniel Shamus and Lhasa Apso Mercy are providing much-needed patting therapy services for stressed undergrads at Edinburgh University.

And students are calling for the Therapet service to be expanded after sessions were booked out in seconds.

Andrew Burnie, Edinburgh University Students Association vice-president for academic affairs, said more than 100 students are participating in the pooch handling, nerve-calming sessions.

Time with the pets is broken down into 15-minute sessions, with four students allowed at a time.

He said: “After the clear success that we’ve seen this year, we will definitely look to expand this next year.

“Demand for the dogs has been really high and it’s helped to highlight the issue of mental health, which affects so many students at this time of year.”

University bosses said their counselling service had teamed up with the student association and dog charity Canine Concern Scotland Trust to offer three sessions between now and the beginning of May – two at the Teviot student union and one at King’s Buildings.

The dogs are already approved therapy pets, which regularly visit hospitals and nursing homes to calm patients and residents.

Therapet’s launch comes as research confirms the mere act of stroking a dog or cat brings a range of benefits, including reduced heart rate and blood pressure, calmed nerves, regular breathing and a mood boost.

Counselling leaders said they were delighted at surging demand for the services of Nina, Mercy and Shamus.

Lindsay Crago, student counsellor at Edinburgh University, said: “It’s something a little bit different. We’re aware that, for a variety of reasons, not everyone is going to connect with a student counselling service such as the one we offer. This is something unique that reaches out to the larger part of the student body and will be of interest to people who wouldn’t necessarily come in for a conventional counselling service.”

She said part of the appeal of dogs, cats and other furry animals lay in the fact they could remind students of beloved family pets.

“Students like the idea of it because a lot of them will come from homes where there are animals which are part of the family, and they’ll miss those,” she said. “There’s nothing better than cuddling into a dog if you’re feeling stressed.”