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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Yappy Hour brings stress relief to UF students with therapy dogs

As studying for finals looms, UF students are destressing with the helpful paw of workers at the Counseling & Wellness Center.

But these aren’t typical counselors: They’ve got wet noses and trot around on four legs.

Yappy Hour is a weekly workshop offered Fridays at the CWC that gives students the opportunity to cope with loneliness, sadness and homesickness and just make students happier — all in the presence of a certified therapy dog.

The center is home to two dogs: Sigmund, also known as Siggi, and Gabe.

“I’ve always thought that animals have had a special way of healing humans,” said Barbara Welsch, a psychologist at the CWC and owner of Siggi, a 3-year-old Havanese.

Yappy Hour began with just Siggi last semester but has expanded to include meetings with Gabe, too.

Welsch said the workshop has succeeded in breaking through to students who have lost their pets or are missing them from afar. She recalled a day when three students grieving the loss of their pets and two who were missing their pets played with Siggi in the waiting room of the CWC.

“It was just really nice to gather all there. And cry together. And play with Siggi together. That was a nice session for them,” she said.

Caroline Dunn, a 27-year-old second-year UF nutritional sciences graduate student, wrote in an email the program could be beneficial in other ways, too.

“I think a program like this on campus is a wonderful outlet for students who may not be able to have a pet of their own to spend time with a dog and relax,” Dunn said.

Psychologist Jennifer Stuart, owner of Gabe, the 5-year-old shih tzu who parades around the CWC halls, said being around therapy dogs has proven effective.

“A lot of research supports that being around animals lowers blood pressure and perceptions of stress,” Stuart said.

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The dogs’ presence also helps students become more social.

Though the dogs mainly work at the center, Welsch said there are plans in place to take Yappy Hour out on the road.

By taking the dogs to various locations with center staffers, Welsch said she hopes to hand out self-help information.

[A version of this story ran on page 3 on 3/25/2014 under the headline "Yappy Hour brings stress relief to UF students having ruff times"]

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