Puppy play date stresses positive mental health

Rachel Huck

Finals week often takes a serious toll on students’ mental wellbeing, and for some, the stress includes graduating and starting a whole new chapter.

In an effort to reduce the stress that the end of the semester can bring, Grand Valley State University’s chapter of Phi Sigma Pi collaborated with Ottawa County’s Harbor Humane Society to host its first ever “Puppy Play Date” on April 14.

Danielle Minster, vice president of Phi Sigma Pi, said in addition to providing a critical relaxation outlet for students, the event also aimed to raise funds for Phi Sigma Pi and the Harbor Humane Society, which split the profits.

“We really wanted to have a positive impact on each student’s mental state,” Minster said. “We wanted to give them time to be able to leave all the stresses that come with the end of the semester behind. Being able to play and interact with the dogs provided that shift in their disposition, which allowed them to be able to leave in a better and happier state than they came with.”

More than 150 students attended the event outside of the Mary Idema Pew Library.

“Interacting with a gentle, friendly pet lessens depression, lowers anxiety, encourages communication and reduces boredom,” Minster said. “All of those are extremely beneficial for college students, as they are common troubles for us.”

The Harbor Humane Society provided the dogs for the event, which raised a total of $577.

“The change in the students’ dispositions was very evident,” Minster said. “I noticed even the students that were walking by saw the dogs and smiled. There is evidence that just smiling for a short time changes your mood, so our impact goes further than the 150 plus that attended.”

Minster said the event was inspired by Rent-A-Puppy, a similar event that Western Michigan University’s chapter of Phi Sigma Pi hosts.

“Based on the turnout and effect it had on students, we plan to make this a reoccurring event at the end of each semester,” Minster said. “We have plans to continue our partnership with Harbor Humane Society.”

“Our main goal was to help students de-stress,” Minster said. “Hopefully this provided a time for the students to be able to forget about upcoming papers, projects, presentations and exams to be able to relax and not have a million things going through their heads stressing them out. Hopefully the students that were stressed and anxious when they arrived left feeling calm and happy.”

Minster said there are other simple approaches to regulating stress levels during exam week, such as exercising and getting plenty of sleep.

“A tired brain does not retain information and does not recall it well,” she said.

For more GVSU resources to help maintain mental health, visit the Counseling Center at www.gvsu.edu/counsel.