Written by Maya Geving. Photo by Maya Geving.

Taking care of your mental health can encompass many different things. In Eastman Hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it can look like interacting with some four-legged furry friends to help ease stress. 

This event is called De-stress with Pets. Dogs from the Central Minnesota Therapy Animal Association are brought to Eastman Hall to help students combat stress. Petting the dogs offers a much-needed escape from the many stressors of college life. 

Ellie Wigham, a graduate assistant with Healthy Huskies put on this event. She says the De-Stress with Pets events are popular among St. Cloud State students. 

“We have 20 to 30 students come here each week. Once a month, we host an event in Atwood which we have around 40 or 50 people come to.”

The benefits of interacting with therapy dogs are many. Students were seen smiling and laughing while they petted the therapy dogs and talked to their owners. 

“Research has shown that being around pets can lower stress levels”, said Wigham. 

Becky Coulter, a dog trainer with CMTAA, said her favorite part of bringing her dog to these events is seeing how fast a dog can make someone feel better. She brought her dog Ginny, an 11-year-old beagle. Ginny has had six months of active training.

“It’s not hard to train her because she likes it”, said Coulter. 

Coulter has been training dogs since 2014. She mainly trains beagles, and brings them to schools, hospitals, and nursing homes to help spread joy. She says that although beagles have a reputation for being harder to train, they can become great therapy dogs. 

“They are very sensitive animals”, she said.

She once brought one of her beagles to a hospital. She had tried to visit the same woman with her beagle multiple times, but she was never awake. Coulter almost gave up, but she decided to try bringing her beagle into the room one more time. To her surprise, the woman opened her eyes once the beagle came in and exclaimed “I love you!”

Another time, Coulter brought her beagle to an adult mental health unit. 

“There was this woman there who was deeply depressed. The beagle did not want to leave her side. Even when I tried to bring him to the next patient, he just kept coming back to that woman. Dogs just have this deep intuition. It’s powerful to watch”, she said. 

Another dog at the event was five-and-a-half-year-old Tootsie, a Great Dane. With her calm nature and being 166 pounds, Tootsie is the definition of a gentle giant. Her owner, Wayne Chmelik, has brought her to Eastman Hall several times before. 

“We also bring her to other colleges, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and therapy sessions”, he said. 

Chmelik mentions that being good around people is essential to being a good therapy dog. The dogs must pass an evaluation every two months and cannot show aggression. 

His favorite part of bringing Tootsie to Eastman Hall is seeing people smile.

“I love it when people say ‘This just made my day’ after seeing the dogs. Those words are the best.”

St. Cloud State student Jack Kimbler said his favorite part about the De-Stress with Pets event is how regular it is. 

“You can count on the dogs to be here every week. I recognize some of the dogs and I think they recognize me too”, he said. 

Kimbler also mentioned how the dogs spread joy on campus and help him deal with college-related stress. 

De-Stress with Pets happens every Tuesday and Thursday at Eastman Hall from 2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. For more information, students can look up De-Stress with Pets on Huskies Connect.