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Thursday, September 16, 2021

The use of therapy animals is a rising  trend and UW students can take part during visits from Dogs on Call.

Students find stress release in four-legged campus visitors

Walking into a library and being greeted by a swarm of dogs may seem unusual to most people. 

Yet, with midterm season in full swing, these furry friends have become a staple study break for University of Wisconsin-Madison students.

Dogs on Call, a local organization that brings therapy dogs to destinations across the state, visits the campus often, usually around midterms and finals season, when students’ stress and anxiety levels are at their peak. 

Students agree that the visiting dogs help them relax and unwind during stressful periods. Senior Kaitlin Schwarz loves dogs and tries to go to as many Dogs on Call events as she can.

“It’s great just to be able to pet the dogs and get that stress relief,” she said.

The use of emotional support and therapy animals has been on the rise recently, but UW has followed the trend for a while.

Dogs on Call — founded by a group of dog-loving friends in Wisconsin in 1999 — has been coming to UW-Madison since 2009 when Kelli Hughes, a campus librarian, heard of the organization through another since-retired librarian.

Around the same time the university had started offering a variety of events during finals season that focused on stress relief, Hughes added.

And Dogs on Call does just that — help students relieve stress. 

“It’s just so busy [in the libraries] and we feel like, even though obviously we don’t have finals ourselves, we feel the stress and the energy of people just struggling to keep it together,” Hughes said. 

Dogs on Call used to only come to College Library, but the organization has expanded their efforts and are now found outside the libraries too — including residence halls and the University Bookstore, where freshman Stephanie Brotherson attended earlier this semester. 

“One of my favorite things, besides food, is if there are dogs. I’m like, yes!” she said. 

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For students with dogs at home, these visits can also mitigate their animal’s absence and serve as an additional motivator to push through school and make it home, Hughes added.

“I think people see finals as what's between them and going home or going to the next thing. So having the dogs kind of reminds them that that’s just right around the corner,” she said.  “It reminds them of being home, for people that grew up with a dog.”

Stress and anxiety are only a few of the many health problems therapy dogs are used for. Dogs on Call helps comfort people in a variety of different settings — from hospitals to college campuses. 

While therapy dogs are wildly popular — there are roughly 500 thousand across America — the science behind them is complicated. 

These dogs are shown to significantly improve patients’ conditions suffering from a wide range of ailments, but researchers are still unsure why or how they do. 

To students, Dogs on Call has become a huge source of stress relief. Every time they’re on campus, huge crowds to pet the four-legged visitors are expected, even when stress levels aren’t at their highest. 

Students can find Dogs on Call events by going to their website calendar and looking for “Student Visits.” Visits are more frequently scheduled around finals and midterms, but can be found throughout the semester. 

“I have to go every time, because dogs,” Brotherson said. “I came to the bookstore to get my textbooks and saw the flyer for the next Dogs on Call. So I obviously had to come back.”  

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