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

SF State’s Health and Wellness Promotion Unit works in conjunction 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 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., volunteers walk the dogs at different locations on campus.

“Therapy dogs are a perfect way to come in, pet dogs, and relax,” said SF State student and Wags for Wellness volunteer Monica Sabelja. “I think overall it makes students happier throughout the day.”

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

“For those who are under stress, it usually helps reduce the stress response that occurs,” Lam said. “Generally, interaction with animals has been shown to lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure.”

Sabelja thinks the shift from online college attendance during the pandemic to returning in person has been a difficult challenge for all students to overcome.

“Someone was talking about living on campus and not being allowed to bring their pet,” Sabelja said. “So it was like a way for them to 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 being online.

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

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

“When available, we’ve brought in therapy cats, pigs, and rabbits in the past,” Lam said. “It’s usually in the context of a counseling framework, but we apply the same idea in the context of prevention and community wellness promotion.”

HPW was able to make this possible thanks to SF State’s long history with the SF SPCA.

“Their animal-assisted therapy program has a volunteer coordinator, who we work with to arrange visits,” Lam said. “We usually ask for at least two teams and for larger events we may ask for more if possible.”

The variety of dogs depends on the pool of volunteers. Because this is an SF SPCA volunteer program, SF State does not request specific dogs.

Roman, a certified therapy Australian Shepherd, calmly sits for 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 Sept. 22, 2022 Roman and other certified dog therapy are available for students to spend time with in order 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 when not all dates are filled, we can contact teams who know our campus to see if they are available to help us.”

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

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

According to Lam, the goal of Wags for Wellness is tied to HPW’s goal of increasing social support for mental health, mental health promotion, and fostering a community with a sense of belonging for students. of SF State.

“This is one of the activities that helps us increase mental health promotion and self-care opportunities for students campus-wide, with a particular focus on stress and stress relief,” Lam said.

The following an event will be located at the Quad at HPW’s Fun Fest on October 6th.

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