By Caitanya Min
I have loved animals since I was a child (I wanted to be a veterinarian and have watched nature programs on public television all my life). I am a certified dog obedience trainer and nearly became a trainer of dogs for the vision-impaired. Shadowing a JHUSON alumnus at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA, two years ago, I met a palliative care nurse practitioner who would visit patients with her golden retriever, Carley. She told me the most inspirational stories about how Carley provided relief and happiness to these very sick children. The stories made sense. Animals, especially dogs, are known for their unconditional love, and something about them just makes people so happy. They are amazing creatures.
During my summer break in 2012, I was doing an internship at Glide Health Services, a federally qualified health center in San Francisco. One of the programs I was in charge of was called SF Empower. It empowers mentally ill people with pre-diabetes/diabetes by providing educational classes, workshops, etc. I knew through research that pets can help with mental disorders such as depression or anxiety, so I called around and arranged a presentation through the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Suffice to say, it was well received.
The clincher: A study that looked at pet therapy and its effects on anxious nursing students. Pet Therapy: Dogs De-Stress Students by Judith S. Young, published in the Journal of Christian Nursing, details Young’s observations on how interacting with her dogs put students in the right frame of mind for exams. Conclusion? “Anecdotal evidence… with the author’s golden retriever, Goldilocks, demonstrates that pet therapy can reduce test anxiety and improve nursing student performance.”
Wait. Why not bring animal therapy to JHUSON?
So in April, the Integrative Health Student Interest Group, for which I’ve been chair for the past two years, played host to Vicki Rummel and her volunteers from Pets on Wheels and their beautiful dogs. They talked a bit about what the volunteer program consists of … then just let the pups do their thing. The dogs were an absolute magnet–I would say that everyone who walked past the glass doors of the Carpenter Room had to poke their head in and see what the activity was all about. Hearing so much laughter, oooh-ing, and aaah-ing and seeing such relaxation and general joy and cheer made me only wish we had tried to bring Pets on Wheels to the School of Nursing a lot earlier.
The University of San Francisco’s law school provides animal therapy for its students, and Rummel says her organization provides this service for students at Towson University as well. There is talk about maybe bringing the dogs back to JHUSON before future exams. I’m just sorry I’ll miss it.
Caitanya Min, BS Trad. ’13, earned her diploma from JHUSON on May 23.