This is final exam week at USM and many students are probably feeling anxious and overwhelmed as the semester draws to a close. To help ease their stress, the university is offering a new therapy program this year. It involves caring canines who are coming to the rescue.
"You are here for me? Yeah, you're so cute," one student said as she hugged a golden retriever.
"Star", "Henry", and "Gretchen" are therapy dogs. The dogs and their handlers are members of the Visiting Pet Teams of South Mississippi. They normally visit hospitals and nursing homes. This week, the pooches are spending some time at USM Gulf Park, so students who are stressing out over their finals can "paws" for a moment and relax.
"It helps my anxiety and helping me focus with my subconscious mind by petting something and focusing on the work that I have to study," said USM Junior Katrina Heim.
"You get to play with them and you get to interact, and they make you happy," said USM Freshman Emileigh Briggs.
"Oh my goodness, you are one soft puppy," Briggs said as she petted Henry.
"They look so soft. It's neat, because they're not everywhere. They're calm and they let you play with them, and they look so caring and loving," she added.
USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett worked with the university staff to bring the cute canines on campus.
"These dogs all are both non-aggressive, but they also are well-trained. That's a big part of it. There's lots of studies that show being around therapy dogs helps reduce blood pressure and anxiety, which is perfect for stress time," said Dr. Casey Maugh, USM Communications Studies Associate Professor and Henry's handler.
There is no guarantee the students will ace their exams, but they seemed to appreciate the pleasant distraction during this hectic time, so they can clear their minds and calm their nerves.
"Taking a break is going to reset your mind. You already know the information. It's in there, so I think therapy dogs are helping with that part as well," said Maugh.
Therapy dogs are visiting the USM campus in Hattiesburg this week as well. The program is also aimed at reducing stress among the faculty and staff as they scramble to turn-in grades and wrap-up the semester.