Pets and a Miniature Horse

Wellness USF brings pets to campus to help reduce the stress students feel during finals week.


                                                                                                                                     Video: Katy Hennig | USF News


Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 18, 2013) – When the going gets tough, the tough try a little tenderness.

That’s why outside of the University of South Florida’s Library Thursday, there was a miniature horse – wearing sneakers, no less – and five small dogs who cuddled up to USF students as part of the Wellness USF “Save Your Sanity, Save Your Grades” campaign.

The trained therapy animals organized through Therapy Pet Connection in Tampa with miniature horse Scooby Boo were brought to campus to help students reduce stress during finals, a time when stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and exhaustion are at peak levels.  The animals will return for another event on Thursday, April 25 at 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the USF Bookstore lawn.

“Our goal is to create an environment where students can be well so they can do well on their exams,” says Stacey Pearson-Wharton, assistant vice president for Wellness. “Our hope is by attending to students’ needs in their stress, we are able to help them pass their exams with flying colors, create an environment that feels supportive, and provides them a little fun in what is typically a stressful time.”

About 88 percent of USF students reported feeling overwhelmed during the past 12 months, according to a study by the America College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment.  When students are highly stressed – as in preparing for finals - they often get a lot more or a lot less sleep.  They may eat more (and often not nutritious foods) or a lot less. Headaches are more common. They may feel moody, irritable, depressed and antisocial. 

Petting animals helps reduce many of those feelings, health experts say. The rewards are both physical and emotional.  Numerous studies indicate it only takes a few minutes with an animal to feel less anxious. Being around pets also lowers blood pressure and heart rates, provides mental stimulation, offers a positive distraction and provides entertainment. 

In addition to pet therapy, Wellness USF is offering numerous stress busting activities and wellness tips. These include time management techniques, stress and meditation workshops, walking groups, free consultations with a certified dietitian, and fitness classes. Students can also get free 5-minute massages in the Wellness Center, and visit Stress Free Zones on campus where students can learn about establishing  healthy habits  and pick up free green tea bags , apples, stress balls, and stress free pens, and a lucky finals button.

Caitlin Autry was one of the many USF students who took advantage of the Wellness offering Thursday. Majoring in Biology and Music studies, she said she was looking forward to the therapy. 


"I'm super excited for these dogs to be here,” Autry said. “I came out because I read online that they were coming and I miss my dog so much.  It makes me so happy."