Adamle, K. N, Riley, T. A., & Carlson, T. (2009). Evaluating college student interest in pet therapy. Journal of American College Health, 57(5), 545-548.
First-year students' introduction to campus life is stressful, and lack of acclimation leads to higher attrition rates. Multiple research studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy can support and enhance quality of life and decrease stress in people suffering from disease. A dearth of research exists exploring animal-assisted therapy for healthy adults experiencing transient stressful situations. The purpose of this study was to investigate first-year college students' previous pet relationships and to assess interest in campus pet therapy designed to provide social support and stress reduction during adjustment to college.
In a large, public, Midwestern university, 246 of approximately 3,800 first-year students, self-selected for health issues orientation sessions, participated in the cross-sectional study. Informed consent was obtained prior to participation. Students completed a multiple-choice, yes/no questionnaire and an open comment section on previous relationships with pets, pet therapy program knowledge, and interest in campus pet therapy. An orientation session included explanation of theories and pet therapy, a question-and-answer session, and physical contact with animals in the presence of handlers.
The majority of participants were single, Caucasian, and female; 91% owned a pet at home, 92.5% considered the pet an important aspect of their lives, and 90.3% stated they felt comforted by their pet's presence when stressed. Dogs were significantly perceived to be comforting using the Mann Whitney U test (p < .00); cats were not statistically significantly seen as supportive and comforting. Only 41% of participants were aware of pet therapy, however, 96% expressed desire to be involved in a campus pet therapy project. Qualitative analysis identified three themes: a feeling of loss for family pets, positive interest in a campus pet therapy project, and requests for pet visitation in residence halls.
This study supports the interest in the development of a campus pet therapy project as an adjunctive social support service to promote first year students' well-being and acclimation to college life. Further study is necessary to understand the impact of animal-assisted activity in first year students' stress levels and adjustment to college.
Cynthia Ploutz, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY
Peggy Jenkins, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY