The Seraphim

Saints love their pets

83 percent of students own one

Students gather around a therapy dog on campus during finals weeks.

Katie Bussoletti

Students gather around a therapy dog on campus during finals weeks.

Katie Bussoletti, Staff Writer

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Pet ownership has been known to have many major physical and mental health benefits. According to the National Center for Health Research, owning a pet can lead to reduced stress and decreased blood pressure.

A recent study of 263 adults shows that pet owners are happier with their lives than non-pet owners.

Pet ownership is a big industry in the U.S. economy. According to the article “How We Treat Pets in America” by Alex Mayyasi, Americans “own over 86.4 million cats and 78.2 million dogs” and spend “nearly $51 billion on pet expenditures” per year.

Many Notre Dame Prep students say that owning a pet is an important part of their life. A student poll showed that 83 percent own a pet. Of those who do, 64 percent said they believe their pet has an affect on their physical and mental health.

Senior Alyssa Williams said her pets are “good for stress relief and are a positive presence.”

Senior Julia Kraus said “pets provide a different relationship and feeling of love than people do.”

Physical and mental health benefits

According to Dr. Greg Fricchione, director of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, pets such as dogs and cats create an increased feeling of security because of their unconditional love.

This is especially important, according to Dr. Fricchione, because pets can provide a sense of purpose. “We do best medically and emotionally when we feel securely attached to another,” he said.

Kraus added, “I always feel safer knowing that my ‘watchdog’ is looking out for me.”

Former NDP student Kaitlyn Smith uses her pets for mental support. “If there is ever a day that’s rough in my personal life, it’s always nice to have these animals,” Smith said. “It’s great to have a buddy to lean on.”

“My dog can calm my family when they are stressed, angry, etc.,” freshman Logan Schipansky said.

Pets can also have physical benefits because of their need for activity. According to the National Center for Health Research, walking a dog has been found to increase social interaction.

“Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets,” according to abHealth Guide article about the health benefits of pets, 

Williams said the physical benefit of pets “depends on how much effort you put into caring for them.”


How Americans treat their pets v. pet owners in other countries

According to the NDP survey, 78 percent of respondents said they consider their pet to be a member of their family.

Related story: Saints with exotic pets. Senior Julia Kraus with her chinchilla Stitch. Kraus is one of several NDP students who have atypical pets.  Photo: Julia Kraus

Williams, for example, referred to her pets as her “little babies” and said “they are part of the family.”

“My dog is a friend and companion,” said Schipansky. “She is a loving and calm animal who I care about.”

Although many Americans would say their pets are an important part of their lives, not all pets in America are treated with care. According to the Oxford Lafayette Humane Society, three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized in U.S. shelters every year. That’s roughly 10,000 pets killed per day.

According to Mayyasi, the need to euthanize so many animals is largely caused by overbreeding. “Veterinarians and pet advocacy groups recommend that dogs and cats be spayed or neutered to combat overpopulation,” he said.

A major factor in the likelihood of a dog getting adopted is its breed and the label that comes with it, according to “Paws for Consideration” by Beth Giudicessi, an article published in ASU’s impact magazine.

For example, “a label of ‘pit bull’ can double one’s adoption time,” said Arizona Animal Welfare League marketing and communications manager Michael Morefield.

Many find it perplexing that “Americans love pets, treat them as family members, and kill millions of them,” the article stated. The consensus of multiple articles shows that there may be a disconnect between Americans feeling towards pets and the way they treat them.

According to Giudicessi, some shelters have decided not to label the breed of the dog in order to dissuade pet owners to choose pets based on perceptions about breeds. Choosing an animal based on its personality rather than the breed “leads to a more successful adoption, and not only improves the dog’s well-being but benefits their human caretakers,” Morefield said.

Pets on college campuses

Today many colleges use pets for their stress-relieving benefits. Many colleges are struggling to accommodate the growing number of students with diagnosed mental health issues who are requesting animals, according to “Campuses Debate Rising Demand for ‘Comfort Animals’” by Jan Hoffman

“Anxiety, followed closely by depression, has become a growing diagnosis among college students in the past few years,” Hoffman said.

Due to the widely accepted notion that animals help with stress relief, many colleges have also begun to bring in animals to help stressed students during finals week.

According to the article “Puppies Are Running an Exam-Week Racket on College Campuses” by Doug Barry, “Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School each have library puppies, which can be checked out through the card catalog, just like a book.” “Students and faculty agree that the dog therapists help manage the stress of exam week,” Barry said.

NDP Alumni Angus O’Donnell and his girlfriend Kayla Hanifen, who both attend the University of Arizona in Tucson, co-adopted their puppy Mylie this fall.

“I figured now was the perfect time to get one,” Hanifen said about why she wanted a puppy as a college student. “It would be harder to train and give a puppy the attention it needs when working a full-time job.”

According to Hanifen, she planned and researched for about five months before adopting the puppy. “I did periodic research about breeds to figure out what dog would be best for my lifestyle and personality, making sure I knew what training facility I would take her to, what vet I would take her to, what I would do with her when I traveled or went to class, etc,” she added.

Although O’Donnell and Hanifen are co-owners, Mylie lives in Kayla’s apartment.

According to O’Donnell, most colleges don’t allow students to have pets in the dorms and most apartments only allow service animals. “All that they really required was the doctor’s script saying that she’d benefit emotionally from a service animal,” he said.  

For many college students, getting a prescription for an emotional support animal is the easiest part about getting a pet in college.

“Emotional support dogs are dogs that provide comfort and support in forms of affection and companionship for an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions,” according to the United States Dog Registry. Unlike service dogs, which are needed to help perform tasks, they are purely for emotional support.

ESAs are less of a liability for the prescriber than anti-depressants, according to O’Donnell. Since they have been effective in treating such a wide number of conditions, “most doctors are willing to write you one [a prescription] for even very mild cases,” he said.

“It’s been pretty easy, with a few minor hiccups,” Hanifen said about the difficulties of having a puppy as a college student. She felt overwhelmed at the beginning and it took her a few weeks to get acclimated. “I would wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I did the right thing,” she said, “but as I had her for a few weeks it got easier and easier, and as we found a rhythm, more positives began to show themselves.”

Although there have been some difficulties to having a puppy at college, both O’Donnell and Hanifen agree that the benefits far outweigh the minor difficulties.  

“It’s nice to have someone to depend on you,” Hanifen said. “There’s someone you need to be responsible for which is a great motivator during a slump because your success is theirs.

“It takes a special kind of person to be a pet owner in college,” said Hanifen. “It’s not something you can do on a whim. You have to want to be a pet owner and be ready for it,” she said.

Despite this, owning your own pet is not the only way to experience the comfort of an ESA. Volunteers with ESA dogs usually come to the library during finals week so students can spend time with them, according to O’Donnell.

“I’ve seen a lot of people in their eighth hour in the library who’ll go spend a few minutes petting a dog that reminds them of their furry friend back home and it changes their mood entirely,” he said.

NDP students pose for a picture with shelter volunteer Ms. Guerin and her dog Summer during Do Good December. Photo: Katie Bussoletti

Volunteers with service dogs attended the NDP campus as part of the Do-December project for NDP’s Paws club. According to one of the club’s co-moderators and NDP English teacher Leslie Swanson, the dogs were on campus from Monday, Dec. 5 to Wednesday, Dec 7.

“Students could take selfies with the dog for a $1 donation to the local shelter,” said Ms. Swanson. The goal of the donations is to help local organizations that train service dogs.

According to Ms. Swanson, while students were petting the dogs, the volunteers shared information with them about the process of training a service dog. The goal is for the students to understand “what the purpose of the dogs is rather than just how cute they are,” she said.

As for the future, the PAWS club hopes to eventually brings dogs onto the NDP campus to help with stress relief during finals week.

Service animals

Dogs have long been used to aid people with illnesses. Service dogs are most prominently known for helping the blind. A recent study published in the Journal of Nursing Education and Practice said patient interaction with service animals resulted in “increased positive social behaviors resulting in fewer incidents requiring staff intervention” and enhanced “social behaviors among older adults.”

Junior Erin Nemivant was first introduced to the idea of working with service dogs through the Power Paws organization. Nemivant then began training her first service dog in 2014 through the Puppy Training program there. She first became interested in training dogs because of her interest in animal science and behavior.

Nemivant has had two dogs so far. Her first service dog Glory, which she trained for two years starting in Nov of 2014, went on to become a diabetes alert dog. “You don’t get to choose what the dog becomes,” Nemivant said. Each dog receives general training. “Its job is based on what the dog is good at,” she said.

Different dogs are assigned to different types of service, Nemivant said. Some types of service dogs include diabetes alert dogs, mobility assistance dogs, anxiety dogs and guide dogs. Nemivant expects her current dog Sara, which she has had for six months, to either be a diabetes alert dog or a mobility assistance dog.

Nemivant described the process of training a dog in more detail: “It takes a lot of time; the commands are difficult and take a lot of the dog’s time and attention.”

Each cue the dog learns must be taught in multiple steps, she said. For example, if the dog is being taught how to get food out of the fridge, it must first be taught how to open the fridge, then how to grab the food, then how to close the fridge and then how to bring it back to the trainer.

Although no training is required to become a dog trainer, a commitment must be made to attend a class to learn the cues once a week, Nemivant said.

Service dogs not only benefit the client who receives them, but also the trainer. Nemivant said she “loves training dogs” and wants to continue doing it for her the rest of life.

She told the story of her first service dog Glory who had two puppies this past Feb. Although she was excited about having a new dog to train, she knew that Glory would soon have to leave to go on to her final training. The final training includes training that is specific to the job the dog will receive. “Glory had to leave our family,” Nemivant said “I was extremely sad.”

Seeing Glory go on to become a diabetic alert dog was a rewarding experience for her. She said it showed her “how impactful these dogs can really be.” Glory’s now six-month-old puppy Sara is the next challenge for Nemivant, and she said, “I plan for her to walk in Glory’s footsteps.” “I’m excited for the memories that come our way,” said Nemivant.

Service dogs can also be used as therapy dogs for hospital patients. According to Therapy Dogs International, an organization that brings therapy dogs to hospitalized children, said “Having therapy dogs in the hospital helps normalize the setting for children.”

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