PAWS celebrated its 10th anniversary at Wilson Library last November as over 280 students took a break from classes and finals preparation to de-stress, have donuts and coffee, and of course, pet plenty of happy dogs.
Boynton Health’s Pet Away Worry and Stress program started on Nov. 13, 2013, as a once a week event, but over the past 10 years, has since grown to four days a week, with around 100 volunteer human-animal teams.
“I feel incredibly grateful and humbled to have PAWS going strong after 10 years,” said Tanya Bailey, an animal-assisted interactions coordinator and PAWS program manager. “It’s bittersweet as well because the success of these years also means the continued and increased level of need for campus-wide mental health support.”
Since 2013, the program has had over 11,000 annual visits. Students and staff interact with registered therapy animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and even miniature horses. Each session is free and open for everyone in the University community.
The early seeds of PAWS’ development were planted when Bailey was an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington.
“My mom snuck the family dog into my dorm when she would come for a visit, and I know the entire floor was just as excited to see this pup as I was,” Bailey said.
For Bailey, PAWS and the Libraries are natural partners. Before PAWS existed, she held a precursor therapy animal outreach program at Magrath Library and the U of M’s Institute on the Environment, working alongside Kristen Mastel, librarian for the Andersen Horticultural Library. Mastel has also been a team member with her pup, Jiggs, on the St. Paul campus.
In 2017, PAWS sought to add a West Bank location to its schedule, so Student Experience, Learning, and Accessibility Manager Philip Dudas began partnering with Bailey to bring PAWS to Wilson Library on a regular basis.
Since then, PAWS’ Wilson visits have become some of the most well attended locations for the program. There’s “palpable energy” in the building on PAWS days, Dudas said, as well as morale boosts for Libraries staff.
“Many of the PAWS teams that visit Wilson have come to be ‘regulars’ over the years. It is heartwarming to see the bond that grows between the students, the animals, and their owners too,” Dudas said. “It truly has been a wonderful partnership that highlights our shared values around student wellbeing and mental health.”
Bailey agrees and hopes PAWS and the Libraries will continue working together for another 10 years to help students and staff.
“The library is a symbol of safety, acceptance, and relief from daily struggles. In a very similar way, PAWS helps provide these exact outcomes,” Bailey said. “I hope PAWS also brings some source of comfort and a moment of respite for staff when they see us walk through the door.”