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Students Get Virtual Pet Therapy

May 1, 2020

Adapting a hands-on program for the coronavirus pandemic, Manchester Community College will offer “virtual pet therapy” sessions as students head into final exams next week.

An important part of the college’s stress relief service — the feel of feline fur or a canine’s cool nose — will be missing from the video sessions, but pet therapy expert Laurel Rabschutz said just the sights and sounds of pooches and pussycats could provide some benefit.

“Hopefully, just seeing the dog will help them relax a little,” Rabschutz said of students interacting with her Newfoundland, Wrigley, one of the participating pets. “Of course, he might sleep through the whole thing, too, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Paula Pina, the college’s associate library director, recruited MCC staffers and their dogs and cats for three days of live Webex sessions. Students will be able to talk to the pet owners and ask questions. Monday’s lineup is Lady, Spot and Ziggy; Tuesday’s sessions feature Trix, Tater Tot, Wrigley and Munchie; and on Wednesday, Axa, Nova, Shay, Lola, Kitty, Jack and Teddy.

The college started the program in 2015, partnering with Manchester-based Tails of Joy, a nonprofit network of volunteers and their therapy animals. Students facing the crunch of final exams visited designated classrooms to interact with the pets, and they always emerged feeling better, Pina said.

“It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve been involved in, just to see the smiles on the students’ faces,” the 22-year MCC veteran said. “It’s just a delight.”

No one’s sure, however, how the virtual therapy sessions will go, said Rabschutz, who coordinates college visits for Tails of Joy.

“This is new territory for all of us,” she said.

But the altered program could open doors for people who cannot personally interact with therapy pets, patients whose immunity is compromised, for instance, Rabschutz said.

“This could be a whole new area for pet therapy,” she said.

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