No laws when you’ve got paws: Pet therapy on campus

Cody is a prized member of Pet Pause’s therapy dog team. He is a favorite among Rider students and always attracts a crowd outside of the Vona Center. 

by Christian McCarville

Mental health is an essential element to college life and Rider’s Outreach Services hold many events to shed light on this. One of its most popular events, Pet Pause, showcases the benefits of pet therapy.

Every Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., one or two therapy dogs are brought to campus outside of the Vona Center. The dogs are extremely friendly and welcome all students to come pet them. While many people naturally love dogs, there are actually a large number of health benefits that accompany their interactions.

“Therapy dogs provide a break in the day for college students to destress and receive the positive benefits from animal interaction. Interactions with therapy dogs can provide comfort by lifting a student’s spirit, reducing feelings of disconnection and loneliness, decreasing worry or anxiety and increasing sense of belonging and positive emotions,” Outreach Team Coordinator and member of the Department of Counseling Services Lisa Spatafore explained. “Each student gets what they need out of the experience because they participate in the program for different reasons.”

Therapy dogs Cody, Remy and Maya are all a part of Outreach’s Pet Pause team and bring joy to the many students who stop by to visit them. Along with these lovable dogs are Rider Counseling Program graduate students Tara Lorenzetti and Hayley Francobandiero. They spend much of their time volunteering alongside Spatafore to ensure that the Pet Pause program is a weekly success.

“I have been lucky to be part of Pet Pause since it started last year. I have learned that students really benefit from taking a break from the stress and demands of everyday life of being a college student with our amazing therapy dog friends,” said Lorenzetti. “Many students report that it is the best part of their week. Sometimes it is hard for students to connect to others with their busy lifestyles or social anxieties, so meeting with therapy dogs is a non-threatening way for students to feel connection with the dogs, handlers and with other students also benefiting from the program.”  

Francobandiero was in agreement and even offered her own thoughts on the program. 

“The Pet Pause program has been a highlight of the week for not only myself in assisting the program, but many of the Rider students as well. It is rewarding to see the instant calming and positive connection between the students and the dogs outside of Daly [Dining Hall] each week,” she said.

The dogs have surely assisted many students with their furry friendliness and fun personalities. It is nearly impossible to walk past the Vona Center without stopping by to pet those lovable pups. 

“The goal is to provide each student who participates some level of comfort, relaxation or positive emotional experience,” said Spatafore.

With the constant success of Pet Pause, the future of the program surely seems hopeful. 

“We are limited by space, pet volunteers and staff to monitor the program but I would love to see it expand over time to have volunteers come to campus each day to offer support to our students,” said Spatafore. 

Students are strongly encouraged to make the most out of this beneficial program, as it was designed in consideration of their health and well-being.

Published in the 11/13/19 edition 

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