With depression and anxiety affecting more young adults, it is important for schools to provide quality mental health resources for their students. In addition to traditional therapies such as counseling, more and more college mental health professionals, including those at Sam Houston State University, are turning to support animals such as Tootsie, a 3 ½ year-old Labrador Retriever, to help students.
According to Tootsie’s handler Debbie O’Donnell, case manager at the SHSU Counseling Center, there is a direct correlation between the rise of animal support programs and student needs over the past decade.
“The most obvious reason universities adopt pet support programs is because most college students have to leave their pets behind when they go to college and they miss them,” she said.
Coping with homesickness or loneliness can be a challenge for college students, especially when trying to juggle academic demands, adjusting to dorm life and extracurricular responsibilities. Animal therapy can play a role in alleviating those feelings. Support animals, like Tootsie, can also help students with socializing, according to O’Donnell.
“The mental, emotional and physical benefits of having Tootsie on campus for students are immeasurable, as she enhances a student’s mood, helping them center and refocus before going about their responsibilities,” O’Donnell added.
Students that take advantage of services at the Counseling Center are invited to ask their provider to meet with Tootsie.