Emotional Support Best Friends

Panic, anxiety, stress and fear are especially relatable in a college environment and increasingly common ailments that have to be dealt with on a daily basis.

To alleviate the burden, many people have taken to animals as companions and sources of constant emotional support, hence the term “emotional support animals.”

These animals come in all shapes and sizes. Dogs, cats, pigs, horses, birds and even reptiles have been seen alongside their human counterparts.

Regardless, anyone can gain comfort and support from any type of animal. In fact, animals have proven to be effective therapists for people with daily struggles of various natures.

SUU Women’s Track and Field athlete Maddy Francis has discovered that a few cuddles from her emotional support dog, Theo, quickly improves her mood.

Maddy and her husband Jacob adopted Theo when Maddy was struggling with depression and feelings of loneliness and isolation despite having people around her.

“Since I have to take care of him it takes my mind away from thoughts that get me down. The responsibility essentially distracts me from being sad.”

Since Theo has come into her life Maddy has derived comfort from having an extra companion that is unconditionally happy to see her. Any time of the day she walks through her door, Theo can be seen wagging his tail excitedly.

Emotional support animals like Theo and countless unnamed others have demonstrated their ongoing effect on humans’ happiness and well-being.

At Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in nearby Kanab, the research of Dr. Hal Herzog, Ph.D. are referenced as a scientific basis for animal rehabilitation and emotional support.

Dr. Herzog, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Western Carolina University, has written extensively about the impact animals have on human health and well-being.

In his November 2014 article, “Does Animal-Assisted Therapy Really Work?” published in Psychology Today, Dr. Herzog reports on several studies concerning animal therapy.

In 14 clinical trials conducted by Purdue University, animal-assisted therapy was found to help children with autism spectrum disorders improve in 27 of 30 reported outcomes.

In other areas of mental health and illness, such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, developmental disabilities and Down’s syndrome, animal-assisted therapy was proven to be beneficial in 28 studies conducted between 1997 and 2009.

Dr. Herzog has written recently about research surrounding the impact of therapy dogs on homesick college students.

Coming to college is stressful enough in its own right, but if one is leaving home for the first time, that stress is compounded by the new responsibility of complete self-management.

Studying full-time, working, budgeting, socializing, competing academically (and for some, competing athletically) – it’s no wonder 20%-70% of students reportedly experience homesickness.

It’s also no wonder that SUU combats this with puppies and therapy dogs when finals week rolls around. This is done in the hopes of providing a relief from the stress of a semester’s worth of school work.

A Canadian-based university program called Building Academic Retention Through K9’s, or BARK, has been designed to help students deal with homesickness and stress, and, ultimately, increase retention rates.

Dr. Herzog reports that through BARK, researchers concluded that small group interactions with a therapy dog and its handler substantially reduced homesickness in first-year college students. 

Furthermore, a 20 minute group session with a dog handler reduced homesickness and stress while increasing feelings of connections with the university community.

Though a relatively new area of research, suffice it to say that the breadth and scope animals have in supporting people in their emotional and mental health is profound.

Anyone who might benefit from animal-assisted therapy can schedule a visit to Best Friends via their website http://www.bestfriends.org/sanctuary or a phone call to 435-644-2001.

The Best Friends Kanab Sanctuary is located at:
5001 Angel Canyon Road
Kanab, Utah 84741-5000
Welcome Center hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day except Christmas.

Story by: Reyce Knutson
Photos by: Mitchell Quartz and Christopher Dimond