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Exams loom, but dogs soothe stress

Nov. 16, 2010

Daniel Cernero | Photo Editor
Wylie junior Maggie Emerson pets a dog up for adoption by the Human Society of Central Texas on Monday in Fountain Mall during Puppy Play Day, hosted by Active Minds. The dog, named Ray Charles, has been blind since birth.

By Carmen Galvan
Staff Writer

Furry visitors from the Humane Society of Central Texas joined students on Baylor campus Monday for an event hosted by Active Minds, a new student organization that aims to create awareness about common mental health issues such as depression, addiction and anxiety.

Five dogs from the Humane Society of Central Texas, formerly known as the Waco Humane Society, visited with students on Fountain Mall as part of Puppy Play Day, which was an initiative to raise awareness on depression and stress, said Rachel Chasse, founding president of the Baylor chapter of Active Minds.

"We've been working with risk management and the Humane Society of Central Texas since the summer as part of our depression initiative," Chasse said. "And being outside and active and having a pet can help reduce depression symptoms."

Chasse said the humane society was willing to work with Active Minds to support the initiative and embraced the opportunity for students to adopt the dogs. Chasse also said several students had expressed interest in adopting the animals but didn't know of any official adoptions at the time.

Tim Molina, adoption manager for the Humane Society of Central Texas, said the humane society was a little hesitant when approached by Active Minds, but soon saw the benefits of animals helping to develop and maintain mental health.

"At first we didn't see the connection between dogs and mental health, but it made sense when they mentioned stress," Molina said. "Dogs help to naturally relieve stress because studies have shown that just petting a dog can lower blood pressure, so there is a connection there."

While choosing the dogs to bring to Baylor, Molina said he looked for dogs that would be well-behaved and able to be around people for extended periods of time since the event was to last five hours and was expected to attract many visitors. Chasse said the event had a large turnout with more than 200 students stopping by Fountain Mall to walk and pet the dogs. Each of the dogs were available for adoption with the hopes that a student would be able to take it home, but Molina said there are still other ways for students to get involved at the Humane Society of Central Texas.

"We have foster programs where students can house the dogs until they are adopted, and in that program we also let people take the dogs from the shelter to run on the Bear Trail," Molina said. Although those who are interested do not have to foster or adopt the dog to take it for a run on the trail, they are required to fill out paperwork before taking the animal.

Active Minds hopes the event helped create awareness about the risk of depression and mental health as rates of depression and mental health are high among college students, said Charmecia Morris, publicity officer for Active Minds.

"It's definitely a big issue here," Morris said. "We talk about statistics all the time, and one in two college students experience depression and one in four has a mental illness or disorder. There is definitely a need that I'm glad someone is trying to fill."

Active Minds will offer free massages and food from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Bill Daniel Student Center at Virtual Vacation, an event hosted to emphasize the need to de-stress for mental health, Chasse said.