Wellness

Golden Gate Express | Wags for Wellness works to relieve stressed students

Golden Gate Express |  Wags for Wellness works to relieve stressed students
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SF State’s Health Promotion & Wellness unit has partnered with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to comfort students through the use of therapy dogs.

Every Thursday from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM, volunteers walk the dogs at various locations on campus.

“Therapy dogs are a perfect way to just stop by, pet a few dogs, and de-stress,” says Monica Sabelja, a student of SF State and Wags for Wellness. “I think it generally makes students happier throughout the day.”

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According to HPW’s Senior Mental Health Education Coordinator Vincent Lam, the Wags for Wellness program was inspired by the scientific conclusion that interacting with animals actually reduces stress.

“For those experiencing stress, it usually helps to reduce the stress response that occurs,” Lam said. “Overall, interacting with animals has been shown to lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure.”

Sabelja believes the shift from going online to college during the pandemic to going back in person has been a tough challenge for all students to overcome.

“Someone was talking about living on campus and they weren’t allowed to bring their animal,” Sabelja said. “So this was a way for them to kind of remember what it was like to have a pet.”

Kyle Mullins, HPW student leader and member of the mental health team, also believes that this program calls for the SF State community to come together after going online.

“I feel like this event is an opportunity to bring back some community as everything has been online,” Mullins said. “[It’s a] great opportunity to bring everyone back together.”

While this event featured therapy dogs, the Wags for Wellness program is not specific to dogs alone.

“When available, we have brought therapy cats, pigs and rabbits in the past,” Lam said. “It’s usually in the context of a counseling environment, but we’re applying the same idea in the context of prevention and promoting community well-being.”

HPW has made this possible thanks to SF State’s long history with the SF SPCA.

“Their Assisted Animal Therapy program has a volunteer coordinator, whom we work with to arrange visits,” Lam said. “We usually ask for at least two teams and for bigger events we can ask for more if possible.”

The variety of dogs depends on the volunteer pool. Because it is an SF SPCA volunteer program, SF State does not ask for specific dogs.

Roman, a certified Australian Shepherd, sits quietly in front of students to pet him as part of the SF State Health Promotion & Wellness Unit’s Wags for Wellness event in front of the Student Services Building on September 22, 2022. Roman and other certified therapy dogs will become available posed for students to spend time with as a way to relieve stress and anxiety. (Tatyana Ekmekjian / Golden Gate Xpress) (Tatyana Ekmekjian)

“It’s not uncommon for them to ask to visit our campus and come back several times a semester,” Lam said. “Sometimes, if we haven’t filled in all the data, we may contact teams familiar with our campus to see if they’re available for support.”

In addition to working with the SF SPCA organization, the HPW also works with SF State’s Enterprise Risk Management team to ensure that HPW has insurance documentation when working with the animals.

“SF SPCA must provide an up-to-date insurance certificate before visiting our campus,” Lam said. “It covers the safety and liability aspects of risk management.”

According to Lam, the purpose of Wags for Wellness in connection with HPW’s goal is to increase social support around mental health, mental health promotion and foster a community with a sense of belonging for SF State students.

“This is one of the activities that will help us increase the campus-wide promotion of mental health and self-care opportunities for students, especially focusing on stress and stress relief,” Lam said.

The next event takes place on the Quad at HPW’s Fun Fest on October 6.

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