With arms outstretched, Samantha Moynihan lies down on a blanket at Alumni Park, reaching out to pet the two therapy dogs, Charlie and Maya, stationed on her left and right. Moynihan, a freshman majoring in cinematic arts, has two greyhounds at home in Seattle. While she misses her own dogs, she said she enjoys spending time with therapy dogs like Charlie and Maya at the USC’s weekly “Pause for Paws” event.
“I like that you can pet animals, and because they’re therapy dogs, a lot of times they’re the personality of the dog that really, really loves everyone,” Moynihan said.
Pause for Paws was started a few years ago, said Diane Medsker, a health promotion specialist at the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion, which helps organize the event. At first, the dogs were brought on campus during finals week through a partnership with nonprofit organization Love on 4 Paws.
“We would do that once or twice a semester, and the students loved it so much, so then we thought, ‘OK, let’s do this more often,’ because the students were like, ‘We want them to come again,’” Medsker said. “So we started to bring them in weekly … now it’s one of the regular initiatives we [OWHP] are responsible for.”
Now, Pause for Paws is held every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., in rotating locations across campus. OWHP works with USC Transportation, which provides free parking for Love on 4 Paws volunteers and setup assistance.
“It’s hugely popular and successful,” Medsker said. “We’ve started to track the number of students who attend, and even if they’re just there for five or 10 minutes, there’s something about being with a dog that lifts so many people’s spirits and just puts them in a better mood.”
Marissa Hernandez, a first-year graduate student studying social work, spent part of her Thursday afternoon hanging out with the therapy dogs. Hernandez, who has a Jack Russell Terrier at home, agreed with Medsker’s thoughts on the event.
“I think it’s really relaxing,” Hernandez said. “It’s kind of distracting, both in a good way and in a bad way. I’m supposed to be writing a paper right now, but it’s relaxing to the point that you’re just really happy, and then your stress levels are really low.”
Moynihan also said the event gave her time to slow down amidst college life. Although she has class during most of Pause for Paws, she tries put aside the last 30 minutes she can attend in her schedule every week.
“I think it’s a really good initiative, especially with just the level of stress, and how the … American education system is evolving to put pressures on students,” Moynihan said.
Pause for Paws’ popularity also led to the introduction of Professor Beauregard Tirebiter, USC’s full-time certified faculty dog. Medsker said that after hearing a positive reception from students about Pause for Paws, the OWHP staff began to think about the benefits and look into the research of having a dog around full-time. OWHP also hosts events where students can spend time with Beau, including residence hall trips, classroom visits and even an opportunity to schedule office hours.
“Students can request him,” Medsker said. “We have an online request form. It’s very busy, yes, we have many requests for a visit from Beau.”
Currently, Pause for Paws and Professor Beau are OWHP’s only programs that involve animals. While Medsker said there are no plans currently to expand, the office would love to add to Beau’s pack.
Moynihan had one suggestion for the office’s next expansion.
“They had a therapy cat that was here last week, and I think they should start doing more of that, because I think that’s an amazing [thing],” Moynihan said.