For the first time in five years, the Health and Wellness Paws & Relax program, which allows students to relieve stress with therapy animals, will not be offered when students return to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) this fall.
Dawn Zitney, a Wellness Educator/Counselor with Health and Wellness, confirmed via email that Health and Wellness is currently “unsure if we will be able to offer Paws & Relax” during the upcoming fall semester.
Zitney said that this decision is “based on health and safety guidelines for both UNH and Pet Partners volunteers,” citing “health and safety” concerns. The Pet Partners program is a non-profit dedicated to facilitating human-animal bonds, training pets for therapy. Volunteers for the Paws & Relax program include but are not limited to Pet Partners, and certain animals have become well-recognized on campus from their participation in Paws & Relax, such as Tuna the cat and the golden retriever North.
Health and Wellness has offered the Paws & Relax program since 2015, allowing students to meet with furry friends as a way to de-stress. The sessions have occurred on a weekly basis in previous semesters, held in the Hamel Recreation Center.
While the program is currently not being offered, Zitney said that Health and Wellness is considering options to make it available. “If we are able to offers something,” she said, “it will look very different than it did prior to COVID.”
With the bulk of Health and Wellness’s resources and focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and programs being put in place such as COVID testing and the #unhtogether campaign, the future of Paws & Relax this fall may remain uncertain for some time. Zitney said that they “hope to announce the status of the program in the next several weeks.”