Students relieve stress and anxiety at pet therapy event

Students practice habits of emotional, physical, social and community well-being through destressing at a pet therapy event, hosted by Elon SPARKS Peer Health Educators and Kopper Top Learning Center PAAWS Program.

Students relieved the stress and anxieties of midterm by bonding with rabbits, cats and dogs during the pet therapy event Tuesday, Oct. 11, on the Moseley West Lawn. During the event, students could hold, pet, play and spend time with their choice of rabbits, cats or dogs.

Puppies being held by students at pet therapy event

The event was a collaboration between Campus Recreation and Wellness’ Elon SPARKS Peer Health Educators and Kopper Top Learning Center PAAWS Program. The long-term partnership itself also illustrates the importance of community well-being.

Animal-assisted therapy, or pet therapy, refers to the benefits of touching and interacting with animals to assist in mental and physical recovery. The popular form of therapeutic recreation emphasizes the human-animal bond. Pet therapy is used in various settings, including hospitals, hospices, schools and long-term care facilities.

Pet therapy can assist in emotional, physical and community wellness. Pet therapy impacts emotional wellness by lowering stress levels and increasing serotonin, motivation, self-worth and pride. It can also build self-esteem, improve relaxation and provide a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, there is a social wellness element to pet therapy for students.

Rabbit and dog play with each other at pet therapy event.

“It brings them together. They might need a new friend today. Even just by holding a buddy, and then they hand it to the next person and suddenly they’re best friends,” said Kelsey Baron, graduate apprentice for wellness. Pet therapy can also increase socialization and communication, and teaches responsibility.

When bonding with pets, participants can walk or play with the animals, allowing them to increase their physical activity. Physical activity can help with high blood pressure. Pet therapy can also help to maintain muscle tone and increase flexibility. Community wellness is practiced in pet therapy by increasing participants’ environmental awareness and teaching participants how to take care of the environment and animals.

During the events, students could experience the emotional, social and physical benefits by connecting with the pets and others that also attended the event.

Dog smiling at pet therapy event“I’m a lot happier than I was before,” said Guy Brill ’26. “I held a bunny which I never had before. So, experience achievement has been unlocked. It was very fun.”

Leah Short ’24 said, “It’s like a little pick me up situation, because a lot of times, Elon culture is work, work, work. So, this is a time where I can come and destress for a short period of time.”

Many students, including Delyla Makki ’24, shared the same distressing experience and were able to find a sense of home.

“I come from a home where we had dogs and cats and everything. So, it kind of makes me feel a sense of home and peace,” said Makki.

student holds kitten

Sarah Tyner ’25 agreed with this sentiment and how beneficial the pet therapy event was for her. “I have anxiety, so petting the animals helps me decrease that, and it’s also a lot of fun because I love animals,” said Tyner.

Other takeaways that students gained were how to better take care of themselves emotionally and physically through bonding with the animals and the materials provided by Elon SPARKS Peer Educators who tabled during the event. “Definitely, I learned that I need to take a break sometimes and destress and focus on myself rather than school all the time,” said Justin Roger ’26.

The long-term partnership between Elon SPARKS Peer Health Educators and Kopper Top Learning Center PAAWS Program also illustrates the importance of community well-being.

“I think all of the different collaborations that happen between all different Elon groups and community organizations is a great way to teach our students how to be global citizens, how to recognize their own civic duty and recognize the good that volunteering can do. Not just for them but for their community,” said Baron.

students pet puppy at pet therapy event

Deborah Meridith, recreation therapist, found and executive director of Kopper Top Life Learning Center, said Elon has been an integral part of making the pet therapy program a possibility.

“Honestly, I thank God every day that I have a LINCS person to help bring the students to us to volunteer. I appreciate the volunteers that come out and help us, the sororities, fraternities and individual students who do an internship. All have been very wonderful for helping us out. We appreciate the partnership. And I enjoy bringing the animals out to help the students too,” said Meridith.

The next pet therapy event will take place during the spring 2023 semester.