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Boynton Health Service hosts weekly animal therapy sessions

Public invited to pet away their stress every Wednesdays through May 21

November 11, 2013

What: Weekly Animal-Assisted Interaction Visits
: Wednesdays, 3 – 5 p.m. (Nov. 13, 2013 – May 21, 2014)
: Garden Room – First Floor, Boynton Health Service, 410 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis

Canines — and a therapy chicken named Woodstock — will make regular cameos at free, weekly "Pet Away Worry and Stress" (PAWS) sessions at the University’s Boynton Health Service. The public is invited to interact with these and other registered therapy animal teams on Wednesdays from 3 – 5 p.m., Nov. 13, 2013 through May 21, 2014.

PAWS is a pilot initiative developed in collaboration with the Animal-Assisted Interactions (AAI) program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which offers therapeutic human-animal connections. AAI teams are volunteer handlers who are specially trained and evaluated, along with their animal partner.

"Many find spending time with animals a healing and important part of their day," said Tanya Bailey of AAI, who’s trained with Woodstock since 2006. "AAI services are a logical component in mental health and well-being resources as they help students connect with something not present on campus — pets."

According to Bailey, research indicates animal interaction can have a range of positive effects on people like decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels.

"Animals can be very supportive when people are stressed or down," added Dr. Gary Christenson, chief medical officer at Boynton. "Our main mission is to help students succeed in their academic ambitions—so you need a solid foundation of both physical and mental health. I see this [PAWS] as one approach to helping students manage stress."

Christenson believes this may be the only sustained AAI program offered on a college campus that’s open to everyone. Depending on its success, PAWS could become a permanent fixture at Boynton.

"The motion of stroking an animal is relaxing," said Christenson. "I think the presence of animals is supportive of mindfulness, living in the moment, and a distraction from your worries. This can also help students who miss a pet back home."

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