Gazebo Gazette

Pets and popsicles made up the scene at The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Gulf Park Campus’ Chimney Pavilion during finals week, as students took a time-out to unwind from their studies and play with therapy dogs as part of University Libraries’ spring semester wellness programs.

Jamie Stanfield, head of USM Gulf Coast Libraries, wanted to provide a relaxing and fun event for the last week of the spring semester. Her goal was to give students a chance to destress and share the love of therapy animals, bask in the beautiful coastal weather, and enjoy popsicles.

“Finals week can be stressful,” said Stanfield. “We believe just a few moments with one of these special pets can help to relieve stress, promote feelings of positivity, and is just fun.

“Collaborating with our campus partners in the Office of Recruitment, who provided ice cream and t-shirts, we saw a great turnout. Everyone on campus who turned out seemed to truly enjoy the opportunity to visit with the pups and each other.”

Ten different therapy dogs were provided through the Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi, a community partner of Pet Partners Pet Therapy Program, in which individuals volunteer their pets to connect with people in the community. The volunteer groups bring comfort and joy to schools, hospitals and other facilities. Many individuals who encounter these furry friends are recovering from an illness or crisis event. The use of animal therapy has been shown to provide positive benefits to those young and old.

Bia Shoemaker, USM recruitment and event specialist, hopes to continue the therapy dog visits to Gulf Park in Long Beach, Miss. during mid-term and finals weeks.

“The visit was a success with many students needing a ‘hug-a-pup’ day to relieve stress during final exams,” expressed Shoemaker. “We had about 30 students and a lot of staff members stopping by for some pup love.”

C. Annie Peters, president and CEO of Pet Partners, believes in a future filled with happier and healthier communities through therapy dog interactions.

“One of the many well-documented mental and physical health benefits of interacting with animals includes improving cognitive functioning by stimulating memory and focus, something that is especially important to students studying for final exams,” said Peters. “Pet Partners therapy dogs and other therapy animal teams are especially busy at this time of year, and we are proud of our volunteers’ commitment to providing comfort and support to thousands of students around the country.”

Pet Partners is a national nonprofit with thousands of registered therapy animal teams across the United States and in over 12 foreign countries. Its volunteer handlers make meaningful visits to people and communities in need with nine different species of animals, visiting facilities including hospitals, schools, transportation centers, eldercare homes, libraries, and more.