You can Always Count on a Dog to Make Your Day a Little Better

Paws and Relax at the Hamel Recreation Center.


Rhianwen Watkins, Arts Editor

If you happen to pass the gym on a Wednesday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., stop what you’re doing, walk inside, climb the stairs to the second floor and make your way toward the Thrive space in room 243. When you enter, the first thing you will see is a group of smiling faces, and at the center of them, none other than Remy, a 6 ½ year old golden retriever who is about to be your new best friend and therapist.

Remy will greet you with a pair of bright eyes and a wagging tail as you take your seat on the carpeted floor. If you were stressed before, rest assured, you will feel a little more peaceful now that you are in his presence.

The event, Paws and Relax, was created almost a decade ago, as a means of providing students with some stress relief throughout the day, amidst classes, homework, extracurriculars and the other stressors of life.

Kailey Little, a first year marine biology major at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) was compelled to stop by out of her love of dogs, being a dog owner herself.

She added that it has helped her the past couple of weeks to reduce the anxiety and stress that has come with being away from her home in Illinois, and adjusting to life in New Hampshire.  

“This has been helping me cope with transitioning and getting used to college life as a freshman,” Little said.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, petting a dog can help reduce a stress hormone, called cortisol, and interacting with dogs can raise levels of a feel-good hormone called oxytocin, the same hormone that is created when mothers bond with their babies.

Eighty-four percent of patients struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder reported that having a service animal benefitted their mental health, and 40% have reported being able to decrease the dosage of their medications, John Hopkins Medicine reports.

Remy began helping people like Little and others at the young age of 2. However, it wasn’t an easy road to claim his position. His caretaker, Eileen Hickman, enrolled Remy in puppy school where he learned some basic commands and behavior skills, before moving onto the Good Canine Citizen program through the American Kennel Club. There, he worked on further obedience and manners with Hickman and completed a 10-skill test. Finally, he moved onto therapy school, attending Elder Pet, a local training program that is housed under the national program, Pet Partners. At the end of the program, he took his practical exam which he passed with flying colors and obtained his degree in pet therapy. Every two years, Remy is required to become recertified.

In the past four years, his career has taken off, leading him to help out in many facilities including nursing homes and schools in the local area, as well as the university. He also now helps out in the Elder Pet certification process, acting as the “neutral dog” in the exam, which requires him to act as a distraction to other dogs taking the exam; in order to pass they must walk by him without reacting.

Remy joined the Paws and Relax team last year, attending a couple times. This year, he is a regular.

Remy is the main therapist with Paws and Relax, attending three weeks in a row with one week off every month. On the off week, students can expect to be greeted by either Briggs (Remy’s uncle), Angie (Remy’s cousin), or Duncan Marshmallow, another relative of Remy.

 Liz Bearden, a nursing major at UNH, found Paws and Relax during her interview for the role of a wellness assistant with Health & Wellness. During the interview, she recalls they asked her if she liked dogs.

 “I love dogs!” she replied to them. 

“Well, then we’ve got the perfect job for you,” they answered.

Bearden’s first day on the job was this past Wednesday, Sept. 21., exceeding her expectations.

“It was really nice to meet Remy. He’s a very sweet dog,” she said. “I was actually very surprised by how many people actually show up. I thought it would be people trickling in, but we’ve been getting a good amount of people. I’m happy that a lot of people know about the program.”

Bearden added that being around animals can greatly help to reduce heart rates and lower anxiety. She recalled that one student earlier in the day stopped in before a test and felt much more relaxed and ready to focus on the exam.

In addition, Hickman sprays Remy’s collar with lavender essential oils to give off a calming scent when students are giving Remy attention.

According to Kathleen Grace Bishop, director of education and promotion for health and wellness at UNH, pet therapy can also reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.

Needless to say, animals are powerful healers.

“I think it’s really important for college students, especially, to be exposed to animals,” Bearden said. “So many people miss their dogs from back home.”

Sydney Sexson, a sports studies graduate student, was also drawn to Paws and Relax. 

“I came last week as well and decided to come again. Remy’s adorable, and it was really, you know, just relaxing,” Sexson said.

According to the National Library of Medicine, graduate students experience higher stress levels than undergraduate students. 

Sexson encourages graduates as well as undergrads to take advantage of Remy’s presence on campus.

“I have two dogs back home in Indiana. So, this was just kind of close to home to me,” said Sexson. “I don’t have a dog at my apartment. So, this just kind of gave me an opportunity to do something that I used to do all the time back home.”

To get in on some stress relief and time with furry friends, stop by the Hamel Recreation Center on a Wednesday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to experience the benefits that Remy or any of his relatives have to offer.

“I think it’s a great stress relief. Just look, he put smiles on everybody’s face,” said Hickman. “He enjoys it as much as I do.”