Rose Barbalace on Rutgers’ Stressbuster And Pet Therapy Sessions

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Updated on 15 January 2021

Have you heard about therapy dog sessions at universities?

If you’re thinking about applying for a university, you may give some consideration to what steps institutions are taking to promote student wellbeing.

An increasing number of universities are offering therapy sessions with dogs to help students escape the pressures of life away from home, exams and university life.

They’re an example of a university who have incorporated therapy dog sessions through their Stressbuster activities during finals week at libraries across Rutgers.

With COVID hitting the USA and the rest of the world hard, Rutgers have a virtual pet therapy session where they provide a link to live cameras of puppies and animals from zoos.

We spoke to Student Coordinator and Library Supervisor Rose Barbalace to learn more about these Stressbuster sessions and the new virtual reality for animal therapy sessions.

1) How did the idea of therapy dog sessions first come about at Rutgers?

Rutgers Therapy Dog Session (Photo: Screenshot / Rutgers Facebook)

Rutgers Therapy Dog Session (Photo: Screenshot / Rutgers Facebook)

We had been in the brainstorming meeting when the topic of final de-stressing activities came up. A colleague had a friend who brought their dog to nursing homes and hospitals as pet therapy and it morphed into an idea to try to see if the organization would come to the library. This was probably more than seven years ago at this point.

2) What is involved in the average therapy dog session at Rutgers (before COVID)?

We have used two to three different organizations for our pet therapy sessions. One being a Rutgers student run club that trains “seeing eye” puppies. Once the dates and times are set, usually just a one or two hour block of time, the dogs arrive in the designated location and are greeted with very happy students. The dog handlers seem to enjoy the interaction with the students just as much as the dogs.

3) How did the students react to their therapy dog sessions (before COVID)?

Rutgers Therapy Dog Session (Photo: Screenshot / Rutgers Facebook)

Rutgers Therapy Dog Session (Photo: Screenshot / Rutgers Facebook)

The pet therapy events are one of our most popular events. The students will sit on the floor with the dogs, cuddle, and take many selfies. We always hear from students who have pets at home they don’t get to see regularly how much they look forward to our pet therapy events.

4) What was involved in moving the dog therapy session onto an online setting?

We know the students love pet therapy during finals so we had to find a way to incorporate pet therapy into our virtual stressbusters. We added links to live camera feeds of various animals including a puppy play pen area.

5) What are some of the challenges of virtual sessions instead of in-person sessions?

The biggest challenge is no personal engagement which is the part we miss the most.

6) What is involved in the average virtual session now?

Not much other than posting and sharing our link to the virtual site on social media. We have also shared with all our student employees who are working for the libraries remotely this year.

7) How have the students reacted to this new medium for dog therapy?

Rutgers Therapy Dog Session (Photo: Screenshot / Rutgers Facebook)

Rutgers Therapy Dog Session (Photo: Screenshot / Rutgers Facebook)

Our student employees have told us they loved being able to check in on animals at the zoos and aquariums.

8) What are the benefits of having online therapy dog sessions?

We are still offering some type of outlet where our students can take a break and relax from their studies.

9) Finally, do you believe this is something all universities and educational institutions should consider?

Rutgers Therapy Dog Session (Photo: Screenshot / Rutgers Facebook)

Rutgers Therapy Dog Session (Photo: Screenshot / Rutgers Facebook)

I think it would definitely be worthy to consider looking into local pet therapy options near your institution. The students love it as it has become one of our most anticipated and well received events during stressbusters week.

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