Dogs relieve student stress

Paws for Stress Relief

Catherine Wilde/contributing photographer

From left, SUNY Cortland senior Carly Ganz and freshman Ally Becker take a break from final exam preparation to play with dogs, like this Dandie Dinmont Terrier, at SUNY Cortland’s Paws for Stress Relief event Monday at Corey Union.

A pair of Dandie Dinmont Terriers, Annie and Watson, greeted stressed-out college students with unflinching stares and stoic cuteness Monday at SUNY Cortland’s Corey Union.

The long, fluffy white dogs, who owner Bill Veit, SUNY Cortland’s risk manager, lifted by their tails several times to show the breed’s characteristic stoutness, are very rare. Only about 360 were registered in the world last year because they are very hard to breed, Veit said.

But he is fond of the breed, which he described as adaptable and calm, and he knew Watson was for him when he got a call from a breeder.

“He was a show dog for about two months and was too lazy in the ring,” Veit said. He promptly drove to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to pick Watson up.

SUNY Cortland spokesman Fred Pierce said the Paws for Stress Relief is always popular.

“Finals have always been and continues to be a stressful time at all colleges and SUNY Cortland is no different,” Pierce said. “This is just one way we hope to get kids to take a breath and just relax a little bit before they buckle down again.”

Watson seemed better suited to an afternoon of leisure, wallowing in the affection of a stream of college students who came to pet and take pictures of him Monday, at times asking even mildly insulting questions.

Like: “Why is his head so big?”

To which Veit replied the effect is really an illusion, created by the halo of unruly white hair.

Annie, in comparison, had silkier, smoother fur and a head seemingly more in proportion with the long, low body bred for hunting badgers and otters. Veit said they were also bred to be grabbed by the tail, so if they escaped down a hole after their quarry, the farmer could get them back.

The Paws for Stress Relief event was started in the spring of 2010 by Teri Vigars, a staff member from the Academic Support and Achievement Program and a golden retriever rescue expert, to provide a break from final exams. Besides the pooches, the college offered chair massages, soothing music, snacks and craft making.

The two-day event ends at 4 p.m. today.

One of the dogs present Monday was an old paw, having been coming since the first year.

Sonya, a 10-year-old German shepherd-border collie mix, lay patiently as throngs of students gave her belly rubs or head pats. Her owner, Jen Drake, who works in the tutoring center and brings her dog to work with her, said Sonya has become a fixture at the office.

“Students come visit her and a lot of the students she recognizes because they’ve come in a couple of times,” she said.

Brianna Muller, a freshman, showered 10-year-old golden retriever Brinkley with love and reflected on why animals have such power to soothe frayed nerves.

“The fact they are so stress free and they can sense it in you and come up and start licking you, you can’t help but smile at them,” she said.

“They give off a positive vibe and are always happy and it rubs off on you,” said senior Carly Ganz, who was stroking Watson and Annie. “And it’s a new environment, rather than constantly looking at books.”

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