At Stockton University, student wellness is a top priority. Although there are many outlets for physical, mental, creative, and spiritual needs of students, there is one outlet that just seems to top the rest. Therapy dogs. Nate Morell, the Active Minds Advisor a Stockton, would say that he has never seen more students smile than when there are therapy dogs around.
Stockton’s chapter works closely with therapy dogs and their owners from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Stockton works with these therapy dogs to positively enhance student’s mental health and to conduct the mental health screenings each year. Before I began at Stockton, close to 300 people were screened each year. Since my freshmen year (2016), and the introduction of therapy dogs, we now screen over 1,100 people per year. That is more than 10% of our student body and each year the number of people screened continues to grow. This is only a small way in which the therapy dogs have impacted our campus. The therapy dogs just make everyone happy when they are around.
Although our Active Minds chapter uses therapy dogs to help increase the amount of people who take screenings for our research, the therapy dogs are involved on campus in many other ways. Before we began having them at our screenings, they would always be at our Stress Less Day event each semester and now more clubs are integrating presentations on therapy dogs. Alpha Phi Omega, Social Work Club, and the Physical Assistant students have been asking the volunteers to come in and educate their students on therapy dogs, but to also allow for some fun and comfort in the visit.
Active Minds at Stockton has seen how large the desire for therapy dogs has become. Therefore, we take the time to map out which of our semester events can incorporate therapy dogs, so that the students can enjoy them more frequently. Our chapter had therapy dogs at our National Speaker presentation with David Romano, at our student stories event, our gaming club event, memorial events, at our Mental Health First Aid Class, and at our Men and Mental Health Panel.
Our chapter has been able to print therapy dog baseball cards. This is a project that our lead therapy dog specialist, Sheryl, created. Students have been receiving these cards with adorable pictures of their favorite dog on them, but with mental health resources on the other side. That way, if they are in crisis they have a cute picture of their favorite dog and the resources to help them become well again. We even sent David Romano home with a few of the cards.
For other Active Minds chapters to get involved with therapy dogs, we would suggest contacting the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Then they can find out where and who your local volunteers are. They can visit their website and find more information at https://www.therapydogs.com/.