Man’s Best Therapist

Emotional support animals are becoming more popular on campus

By on February 27, 2018

Photo contributed by Lindsay Roethke
Allison Roethke has a lot on her plate. The sophomore communications major and Division I hockey player is tasked with balancing a 12-credit course load alongside three to four hours on the ice per day.

How does she handle it all? With her emotional support animal.

“With Nala, it’s so much easier for me to navigate things,” Roethke said. “And I think she helps me keep things in check.”

Nala is the 12-week-old pitbull-labrador mix that Roethke adopted a short three weeks ago. Roethke describes her as calm and friendly. Although the two became acquainted less than a month ago, they are already inseparable.

“She’s literally like my twin because we nap a lot, she’s very calm and loves to play,” Roethke said. “(Having a dog) is a lot of responsibility, but I have ADD, so being on a set schedule and having to plan my day around Nala keeps me really organized.”

Roethke isn’t the only one that has a furry pal help her manage a tough schedule. In fact, she is part of a major nationwide trend – using animals as therapists to ease stress, attention disorders and anything in between.

Considerable scientific evidence suggests that an animal presence can have an incredibly positive impact on the human condition, comparable to eating fruits and vegetables or exercising regularly, according to an article in The Washington Post.

Research on therapy animals is almost constantly performed by Yale Innovative Interactions Lab, which focuses on children’s reactions to stressful stimuli, and the effect that animal interaction has on coping.

Meanwhile, researchers at Purdue University reviewed 14 clinical trials, which revealed a strong correlation between animal interaction and cognitive improvements in subjects with autism, Alzheimer’s and even schizophrenia.

Jacquelyn Best, Long Island Regional Director for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, says that the social connection between a person and an animal can be a great way to relieve stress.

“If you consider that pet therapy reduces anxiety and depression while creating a social connection and comfort level, patients will be more willing to engage in constructive exercises aimed at habilitation,” Best said over email. “Having a therapy dog can be an extremely beneficial in reducing depression, anxiety and panic attacks.”

And while plenty of research has been done on this topic, Best notes that there are reasons to be wary of certain studies.

“I think if you were to do an examination of research conducted, you would see that it is considerable and comprehensive,” Best said. “However, you need to be cautious regarding many of the studies. Oftentimes, psychosocial research relies on self report which can be flawed.”

Photo contributed by Lindsay Roethke
Despite that, many college students are taking advantage of this form of therapy. As for how students at Quinnipiac can get their support animal approved, the process is simple, Roethke says.

“It was pretty easy (to get Nala on campus). I had to speak with Matt Cooper; he’s head of Accommodations,” Roethke said. “And I basically just had to tell him my reasoning, like why I needed a therapy animal and what it would help me with.”

While animal therapy treatments have gained serious traction the past few decades, it is by no means a new practice.

Historical records suggest that 17th century Quakers in England hosted a retreat where individuals with mental illnesses were given the opportunity to interact with animals. Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, was known to involve dogs during his famous psychoanalysis sessions.

Fast forward to 2018, and many are still benefiting from the therapeutic effects of animals.

“I certainly wouldn’t call Animal Assisted Therapy a trend,” Best said. “Like psychopharmacology and talk therapy, it is yet another tool that can effectively be used based on the characteristics of the patient.”

And that effectiveness of animal therapy is certainly something that Roethke can attest to.

“It helps with structure and I feel a lot more sane,” Roethke said. “I feel very organized, and that’s something that I haven’t felt in a long time.”

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Associate Arts and Life Editor