They're called "study puppies"...fine, they're not officially called study puppies, but the dogs some colleges and universities are bringing in during exam week to help students cope with stress should be called study puppies because the assonance of the phrase is delightful and the image it conjures of a downy-furred puppy wearing spectacles and an oversized mortarboard as it peers into an open book with a look of utter bemusement is adorable.
Colleges and universities are introducing more dogs to campus because they're finding, according to the Associated Press, that the companionable, empathetic creatures help calm students who are so stressed out about exams that their heads will literally shrivel and cave in like old citrus fruit if they don't pet a dog immediately. The dogs are supposed to ease the stress of finals, at least according to law librarian Richelle Reid, who started Emory University's pet therapy program this year after learning about a similar program at the University of California. "We had a student who came in and a staff person commented they had never seen that student smile," Reid said of a mirthless, formerly puppy-less law student at Emory. "[The puppy program] has had positive effects, helping them to just have a moment to clear their minds and not have to think about studies, not have to think about books."
So far, the notoriously non-violent puppy mafia has infiltrated counseling centers and dorm rooms at colleges that have put their students at the mercy of tail-wags and beseeching saucer-eyes. Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School each have library puppies, which can be checked out through the card catalog and never ever returned, just like a book. The Harvard Med School shih tzu, Cooper, even holds regular office hours, which should make underpaid adjuncts throughout academia wring their hands in exasperation. Researcher Loise Francisco-Anderson owns Cooper and says that he offers an undeniable therapeutic outlet for frazzled students who've reached their threshold for academic stress. "You can release some of the emotions to a pet that you can't to a human," said Francisco-Anderson. "A pet keeps it confidential. You don't have to worry about someone else saying, `Oh, I think she's having a nervous breakdown over the science exam.'"
Most schools that offer such canine services contract with organizations that train service dogs, but some schools, such as Harvard, rely on a faculty members to lend their own dogs to the calm-grad-students-the-fuck-down cause. Usually, time with the therapy dogs is free to students, but Indiana University decided last month that it would make a little scratch on the side by charging students five dollars to book romping time with one of 20 rescue dogs. Then, once students had developed an unbreakable bond with the animals, they were offered the stark choice to adopt one of the dogs or say goodbye...forever.
Students and faculty agree that the dog therapists help manage the stress of exam week, probably a lot better than drugs or booze, which is exactly what the canine mafia, in its protracted battle with cats for the human heart, wants us to think.