Tails of compassion: mental health awareness meets canine connection

Students pose with dogsWagging tails and heartfelt conversations recently lit up The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth campus as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. In a novel collaboration, the HSC Office of Care & Civility joined forces with Cowtown Friends of FWACC, a non-profit fundraising and advocacy partner to Fort Worth Animal Care & Control.

Dogs from Fort Worth Animal Care & Control, each hoping to catch a sympathetic eye and find a forever home, brought their own special charm to the HSC campus, as Cowtown Friends co-founder and School of Public Health associate professor Dr. Dana Litt talked with students, faculty and staff about the many positive impacts of engaging with animals.

“Our bond with these animals goes beyond mere companionship,” Litt explained. “The connection we share with animals deeply affects our well-being. Their unwavering love and devotion consistently enhance our sense of well-being.”

Litt’s sentiments align with a recent survey from the American Psychiatric Association. Nearly 70% of participants reported that pets help reduce stress and anxiety, provide unconditional support and provide a calming presence.

Tails Of Compassion 1“Pets not only serve as a source of comfort and support, they also play a vital role in reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, enhancing heart health and well-being in adults, and helping children develop emotional and social skills,” noted Dr. Shafik Dharamsi, dean of SPH.

Sophia Brockman, Office of Care & Civility student services specialist, underscored the urgent need to recognize and prioritize mental health, especially among students.

“Especially during times of pressure and stress, students tend to place their mental health on the backburner,” she said.

“To be able to offer our students space to be intentional and mindful about their mental health is incredibly important to us,” she added. “We are always looking for innovative ways to improve our students’ wellbeing. It’s an added bonus that one of the ways to do that is by petting and spending time with a dog.”

Tails Of Compassion 3Although the dogs visiting campus were available for adoption, this gathering was more than a pet adoption drive.

“It was really a holistic experience, allowing students to delve into the multifaceted world of human-animal bonds,” Litt said.

Beyond the usual adoption pitches, Litt — along with shelter staff and volunteers — discussed various ways to participate, such as fostering a pet, volunteering for weekend shelter shifts or joining dog-day-out programs.

While this event inspired many students to sign up for fostering and volunteer roles, its success wasn’t measured just in numbers.

The day instilled a profound recognition of the mutual bonds that humans share with their furry counterparts, reminding attendees that in nurturing animals, there’s often a healing touch that reverberates back to us.

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