What is the best way to destress during the holiday season? For Sacred Heart University’s s.w.e.e.t. organization, it was to bring therapy dogs to campus.
The s.w.e.e.t. (Student Wellness Education and Empowerment Team) organization focuses on providing services that support student wellbeing. s.w.e.e.t. President and senior Erin Hare helps put together events for the student body to enjoy.
“We’ve been doing this for multiple years now. We try to schedule therapy dogs to come visit campus during stressful times in the school year, such as midterms and final exams,” said Hare.
Students also recognize the importance of relaxation time. “Everyone is missing a part of their home lives while being here at SHU, so we like to use dogs as a distraction tool,” said Hare.
During the planning process, students and faculty within the organization reach out to community volunteers and university partners. s.w.e.e.t. faculty advisor Karen Flanagan works behind the scenes to coordinate various campus events.
“We are currently partnered with two organizations to bring dogs to campus, which are Therapy Dogs International and Pet Partners,” said Flanagan.“We also try to tie in other positive health promotions, such as our YOU@SHU digital platform.”
The YOU@SHU program is a personalized application that provides helpful videos and articles pertaining to mental health. Users can also utilize the program to create and sustain good habits by checking off personal goals.
This time, two different-sized therapy dogs came to campus for the event. The small dog was a terrier mix with black fur, while the larger dog had similar fur but was a mutt mix. Both dogs were held on leashes and students were encouraged to come up and interact with them. Freshman Katie McCabe explains the comfort attending this event brought her.
“Leaving home for the first time made me really miss my dog, so being able to experience this is very comforting,” said McCabe.
In addition to hosting this event, s.w.e.e.t. also plans to offer future mental health resources such as positive reinforcements, alcohol abuse checkups and the Sweet Dreams program, which teaches the importance of good sleeping patterns.
Those involved with s.w.e.e.t. recognize the importance of keeping mental health a priority. “We never want a student to suffer in silence,” said Flanagan.
Senior and s.w.e.e.t. program chair Abby Andre shared what the event meant to her.
“The whole purpose is to give students a time to disconnect from busy schedules. Even a little bit of removed stress can prove to be monumental,” said Andre. “What makes this experience worth it is seeing the students’ faces light up when they interact with the dogs.”
s.w.e.e.t. will be hosting a week-long event during the final week of the semester titled Stress Free Zone. This event will offer various activities that help with stress management, including coloring books, aromatherapy and goodie bags filled with positive quotes. In addition to these, therapy dogs will also be present during finals week.
The SHU Counseling Center offers counseling sessions on a daily basis free of charge. Their offices can be reached by calling 203-371-7955. Additionally, students and faculty can visit the SHU Wellness Center anytime Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.