Point Park hosts therapy dog visit amid rising mental health concerns on campus, nationally

Counseling Center brings back popular event for first time this semester


Photo by Zack Lawry

Shelby the therapy dog

Written By Zack Lawry, Co-News Editor

On Thursday, Oct. 21, Point Park’s Counseling Center hosted the semester’s first College Canines event as part of its efforts to assist students in managing their mental health.

The College Canines event, which ran from 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, has been popular among students in the past, according to Director of Student Health and Wellness Cassandra Moffat.

“In previous years, this event has been held at Point Park, and I was informed by students and faculty that they would like to have this event held again,” Moffat said. “Because of the desire to bring the event back and the research around the effectiveness of therapy dogs in helping to reduce stress and anxiety, we thought that it would be a great event to start up again.”

Moffat also said that the turnout for College Canines was more than she expected.

“Overall, I am amazed by the turnout of the event and think that it went well,” she said. “Seeing students together and enjoying their time with Shelby and each other was truly special.”

College Canines featured a visit from Shelby, a 3½-year-old ‘Morkie’ (Maltese & Yorkie). Donna Schiebel, Shelby’s “mom” and caretaker, said that Shelby has been a registered Pet Therapy dog for three months, a title she earned by passing multiple tests.

“She had to pass two certification tests for Pet Therapy,” Schiebel said. “First, she had to pass a Canine Good Citizen testing to show she is a well-mannered dog, and second she had to pass a Pet Therapy test to demonstrate she was well behaved around children and senior citizens to visit schools, libraries and nursing homes, etc.”

Shelby’s extensive training and preparation ensured that she is able to serve as a source of comfort and relief for anyone dealing with high levels of stress and/or anxiety—such as college students after midterms.

Kaitlyn Zoladz, a junior forensic science major, said they felt that the visit from Shelby helped to improve their mental health.

“I definitely feel like having events like College Canines has been a huge help to my mental health,” Zoladz said. “I don’t have pets of my own, but I love dogs. And it’s really relaxing for a lot of people to be able to sit and pet a dog and de-stress for a bit, especially during the middle of the semester when stress is high for so many students.”

Mental health issues have become a significant problem in the United States in recent years, according to major outlets. Forbes reported that “Americans were more concerned about mental health (35%) and drug abuse (20%) than other countries – which respectively averaged 31% and 13% ranking these as one of their country’s biggest problems.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a major impact on mental health due to the isolation caused by lockdowns and quarantining. The American Psychological Association reports that, “according to a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder.”

In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently added mental health to their list of “Underlying Medical Conditions Associated with Higher Risk for Severe COVID-19,” specifying “Mood disorders, including depression Schizophrenia spectrum disorders” on their website.

Point Park has said it is aware of the mental health crisis affecting students and staff, writing on the school’s website that ​​”Point Park has dedicated professional staff and trained peers to help you, whether you need assistance with a health issue, you are looking for guidance with your studies or career plans or just need someone to talk to.”

“I feel like Point Park is doing the best they can to alleviate student stress,” Zoladz said. “Having events like this is a really great resource, and I think having more similar to these and focused on student mental health would be great. Of course, still being in a pandemic, it’s still difficult. But I think that as we are able to start transitioning to being in person with each other again safely that events like these definitely do help.”

The College Canines event was one example of the university’s efforts to improve student mental health, though other resources have been offered as well.

“The two main groups that we have currently running and coming up are our Support Space group and the Getting Unstuck workshop. The support space group is a group that runs every Friday from 3-4:30 p.m. in the counseling center and is meant for anybody to drop-in and talk about concerns they are having on campus or beyond,” Moffat said.

“The Getting Unstuck workshop is a three session seminar intended to help increase your understanding and knowledge about depression and to provide students with skills to help manage their symptoms of depression,” she said. “The workshop is virtual and will be running on the following dates/times: 11/8, 11/15, 11/29 from 4-5:30 p.m. If any student is interested in these groups, they can reach out to the counseling center by walking in, calling or emailing us. We are also open to feedback from all students around their needs and want they want more of on campus.”

The Counseling Center, located on the third floor of the Student Center, also offers drop-in hours to all students every Friday from 3 – 4:30 p.m., which started at the beginning of October.

In an email sent to students at the end of September, the Counseling Center offered the service for students who are “looking for a space to talk,” “needing input on a mental health concern,” or “are searching for a safe outlet to discuss experiences on campus or beyond.”

These events can be helpful for students facing academic stress. Zoladz is one student who has benefitted from attending these events, and feels that Point Park should continue to hold events focusing on mental health.

“I think it would be really beneficial to hold more of these events in the future,” they said. “I remember when they would be held once or twice a month my freshman year, and that helped me a lot with the difficult transition into college and gave me something to always look forward to, which I think would be really great for a lot of people.”

Zoladz also said that they would recommend the College Canines event specifically for other students looking to alleviate stress.

“I would absolutely recommend that people come and visit the therapy dogs (especially Shelby, who is a very good dog),” they said. “I think it’s always a really fun and relaxing environment between having the dogs and their handlers, and all the people there just enjoying each other’s company.”

Students who missed out on Shelby’s last visit will have another opportunity in November, as Donna and Shelby are eager to return to Point Park.

“Shelby and I LOVED our visit with you all,” Schiebel said. “We can’t wait to come back on Thursday, Nov. 11 @ 9:30 a.m.”

The Counseling Center is hopeful that the Nov. 11 session will not be the last, saying that they are currently working to make College Canines a regular event on campus.

“We are working towards making this a monthly event during the academic year,” Moffat said. “The next dates and times for the event will be Thursday, Nov. 11 and Dec. 2 from 9:30 a.m to 10:30 a.m. We are hoping to be able to work towards getting more therapy dogs to visit in the future as well.”