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Monday, 18 December 2017

Just PAWS for a moment!

By: Praba Naidoo
During the first two weeks in November, I felt terribly swamped and overwhelmed. Let me start from the beginning, I was leaving for a vacation and I was physically sick. The Library Marketing team and I had to put the final touches to the Library Newsletter, I had this blog to write, some urgent tasks to attend to, pack for my vacation, that endless “to-do” list and my body was just letting me down. I decided to hit that PAUSE button for a moment and spent the time listening to some music.
This segues into my second PAWS. During my visit to the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto I was told about their “PAWS for a study break” programme. 

The Gerstein library staff noticed increased levels of student stress and anxiety amongst medical students, whilst providing them with research assistance. Gerstein decided to implement the animal-assisted therapy (AAT) programme. This basically gave the students a break from their studying during the exam period by them having several sessions with a therapy dog. According to the staff the AAT programme was well received and positive.

Florence Nightingale was one of the first well-known healthcare professionals to observe the positive influences of small animals on her chronically ill patients. This was as early as 1860. Since then the benefits from exposure to AAT, both psychological and physical have been well documented. However, there is little clinical evidence that supports the impact AAT has on patients in the long term.
The use of furrier activity has become widespread in hospital waiting rooms, assistance with physical therapy, to help patients cope with trauma, mental health disorders, support to prisoner health and comfort in disaster areas.
University libraries globally have been experimenting with therapy dogs as a means to engage students and provide a more supportive environment during exam time. Some of the qualitative feedback from students indicated expressions of happiness, relaxation, a connection with the dogs. With some students interactions with pets was a new experience.  

AAT could be beneficial to our students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). We are approaching a new academic year in January 2018. Attending university is stressful and, consequently, mental and emotional support systems play a crucial role in fostering student well-being. Not only do students have considerable academic pressures to cope with, but they are often living away from home for the first time and integrating into new social groups. For our newly registered students, many will have to learn to cope with leaving home and living in residences. The transition from high school to a tertiary institution can also be difficult to cope with.

The human-animal bond could have a positive effect on reducing the effects of stress, anxiety, homesickness and loneliness. Hence, interactions with dogs can modify stress and positively affect the mood amongst our students.  
Could our friends with PAWs be able to promote retention and student satisfaction amongst all of our students at UKZN? Should we PAWs for a moment at UKZN?

Bell, A. 2013. Paws for a Study Break: Running an Animal-Assisted Therapy Program at the Gerstein Science Information Centre. Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 8.
Matuszek, S. 2010. Animal-facilitated therapy in various patient populations: systematic literature review. Holistic Nursing Practice, 24(4), 187-203.