Every Thursday, USC students can interact with therapy dogs as part of the Office for Health and Wellness Promotion’s (OHWP) weekly campus event, Pause for Paws.
The OHWP service aims to reduce student depression and anxiety levels by providing a break in busy schedules with certified, four-legged friends. The dogs are usually on campus for three hours every Thursday, and all students are invited to pet them.
“Students are constantly running from classes to meetings, and there’s a lot on their minds all the time. The dogs provide an opportunity for students to mentally and physically take a break from their to do list,” said Amanda Vanni, OHWP’s health promotion specialist.
Pause for Paws is coinciding with National Suicide Prevention Week, which runs through September 16. According to the Foundation for Suicide Prevention, over 50 percent of suicide victims suffered major depression during their life.
To help lessen these feelings on USC’s campus, therapy dogs, who have undergone the required number of visits to become certified, are available for belly rubs and ear scratching. Besides tail wags, members of OHWP also discussed the physiological benefits of the event.
“Even brief interactions with dogs can decrease cortisol levels, the stress hormones, and increase oxytocin and serotonin. Interactions can really have a positive mood, uplifting effect,” Vanni said.
Pups found under the red and gold pop-up tent in McCarthy Quad are part of a separate organization called Love on 4 Paws. The volunteer-based, non-profit organization is made up of individuals and their animals who take part in a range of events including hospitals and health care facilities.
Pause for Paws has its regulars, as some USC students are weekly visitors who have formed a connection with the therapy dogs and volunteers. OHWP wants the event to offer a safe space for students to make friends and feel welcome in the Trojan community.
“When you’re having a stressful day, you can just come over here and hug the dogs, and the dogs don’t care what kind of day you have, they’re just happy to see you,” said USC sophomore Larissa Varvlik, “I’ve also made friends with a lot of people that come every week and the volunteers.”
While Pause for Paws visits campus once a week, USC has its resident full-time canine, Professor Beauregard Tirebiter, also known as “Beau.” Unlike other professors one might find in class, Beau is a 2-year-old golden doodle, who’s a certified facility therapy dog. Beau specializes in providing his service and companionship to the entire campus of USC.
Professor Beau has office hours in the Student Wellness Lounge and can visit with different groups at any time throughout the year upon request.
“Beau is available to everyone,” Vanni said. “We really see him as a part of our community.”
The location of Pause for Paws changes weekly, and up to date information can be found on the OHWP Twitter and Facebook.
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