A helping paw for a healthy boost


DUNMORE, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – We certainly love our pets for the companionship and unconditional love they give us. But some pets provide an even greater benefit. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller visited a college campus on Tuesday to see how.

It’s that time of year when stress is at an end-of-the-semester high. As Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller explains, it’s why some pets that are specially trained as stress-busters made a visit on Tuesday in Lackawanna County

Trying to get through all the stress the week before finals, a good place for Penn State Scranton students to start is with an English Setter named “Quest”. He and about a dozen of his canine companions from Therapy Dogs International Chapter 254 made a special on-campus visit.

Petting one of the therapy dogs, Nursing major Angel Hunting told it “You’re so soft.” The freshman student from Jessup has a lot to juggle. “It gets very stressful. You know, you’ve got finals coming up. You have projects to complete.”  But to get to interact with these pooches? “It makes me feel happy. You know, it makes me feel calm and at home again,” she said. “Less stressed. Definitely.”

Freshman nutrition major Lauren Rzucidlo of Jermyn said, “It just gives you a sense of relief and happiness when you’re just here with the dogs. They’re so calm.” 

That calming effect is no coincidence according to Penn State Scranton Licensed Counselor Kathy Stefanelli, Ph.D., LPC. “We know that pet therapy does that. Pets help to release endorphins and seratonin and feel-good neurotransmitters.”

These pooches are taught skills over several weeks then tested to see if they’ve got the right stuff to be a therapy dog. Therapy Dogs International Chapter 254 Dog Handler Barb Halloran said, “They have to, well, take training specific to what’s expected of them. How they should behave in a nursing home, a hospital, a school.”

In this visit, they even participated in “doga” or dog yoga. The bond these therapy dogs have with those they meet may be brief, but there’s no denying the impact. Penn State Scranton senior Joe Lombardo from Jenkins Township said, “I do love pets and just animals in general so you know it is a good thing to de-stress with.”

Therapy dogs have even been brought into courtrooms to serve as a calming influence on traumatized witnesses who must testify. Tuesday marked the second time the dogs visited the Penn State Scranton campus in Dunmore during the 2018-2019 school year. University leaders say they expect to bring back the therapy dogs again next school year.

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