Owning pets may cause positive mental health effects

Pet corn snake Millie wraps around its owner’s hand. 

Caleb Chandler, News Contributor

UHDS guidelines allow service, support animals in residence halls.

Pets can be a unique addition to a student’s life. Their warm presence and feeling of friendship make many enjoy the care of animals. From dogs and cats, to smaller rodents like hamsters and guinea pigs, there is a diverse pool of animals that can be had.

Jessica Howard is a senior majoring in psychology at Oregon State University. Her pet is a rat named Gimli, which she picked up after hearing of their smart, cleanly and social abilities, opposite to what many first think.

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“I like having a pet because I enjoy the companionship that a pet brings”, Howard said via email. “He (Gimli) really is beneficial for moral support and my overall mental health. When I’m having a bad day and I come home to him and he’s happy to see me, it really is the best feeling.”

Megan Duke, a junior studying religion and French, is another student-pet owner, with a tarantula named Banjo. 

“I’d been keeping smaller spiders for a few years before my friend’s aunt offered me one of her baby tarantulas and I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Duke said over email. “They’re very low maintenance and interesting to watch, especially when it’s time to eat. The only trick Banjo has learned is how to scare the wits out of my roommates when she escapes,” Duke added. 

While at school, students can find themselves feeling overwhelmed with coursework and extracurriculars. Pets can offer students a way of feeling relieved from stress if they are in the presence of the animal, Howard informed from her experience.

“As a college student, I know that it can be difficult to find the time to go outside and enjoy yourself. Having animals in the house brings a little bit of nature inside and reminds you to relax and take a break between homework and exams. Even just watching a fish swim for a few minutes can lower your heart rate and calm you down,” Howard said via email. 

There has been research done showing that pets can have a positive impact on a mental health on humans, according to Holly Duvall, the student outreach assistant at the Counseling and Psychological Services at OSU. 

“In terms of mental health, I know one reason that a lot of people get pets and enjoy having a pet is because it nurtures the loneliness aspect. Someone that might feel lonely will get a pet and they have reported lots of signs of decreased loneliness. Another thing is it decreases stress levels,” Duvall said. 

Pets have also been known to enhance the social life of certain individuals, according to Duvall.  

“There’s also increased sociability because people who walk their dogs, a lot of people want to come pet their dogs or if you go to a dog park, people just interact on terms of their dogs, so people get more social interaction,” Duvall said. 

Cory Zimmerman, a senior and interior design major, said his cat, named Riley, has made him happier.

“He (Riley) just adds so much personality to the house,” Zimmerman said via email. “Without him, I’d probably just sit quietly and do nothing a lot of the time but he’s such a silly animal that I’m always playing with him or talking to him or chasing him around. He’s definitely made me much happier as a person.”

Because animals have been shown to destress some people, CAPS offers an event during dead week and finals week called Paws to Destress. The event takes place at the Valley Library. 

“CAPS hosts the Paws to Destress event because there has been a lot of research about how dogs can decrease stress levels,” Duvall said. “Basically people can just walk in, pet therapy dogs for a couple minutes then are able to walk out. Most people do report, because we do a little survey, that their stress levels decrease. And because we have that data, that it’s working, that’s why we bring it back.” 

Paws to Destress is the most popular event put on by CAPS with about 250 students participating at each occasion just for the dogs, according to Duvall. The therapy dogs come from a group called Welcome Waggers and the helpers are all volunteers at the event. The group serves Corvallis and the surrounding areas by bringing therapy dogs and visiting places such as schools, hospitals and retirement homes, according to the Welcome Waggers website. 

Pets can be a joy to have around, but it is important to remain educated about the responsibilities of ownership before making the decision to purchase any animals. 

“I believe in the benefits, both physical and mental health benefits of having pets, but then again, only get them if you know you can take care of them and give them financial help and the time,” Duvall said. 

Research is recommended to give a potential buyer the opportunity to look into affordance of a pet and realize the time commitment needed, according to Howard. 

“Never go out of your means to obtain a new pet. Sooner or later your inability to provide for the animal in a case of emergency may oblige you to forfeit your pet. Always make sure that you can provide enough stability before seeking out a new pal,” Duke said via email. 

There are a few rules that must be considered additionally with on campus living. The University Housing and Dining Services have restrictions on what pets are allowed in the residence halls. 

“Pets are prohibited in the residence halls. The only exceptions are fish kept in a tank no bigger than 10 gallons, approved service animals or approved emotional support animals,” Jill Childress, UHDS assistant director of conduct and community standards, said over email. 

If a student is found with an animal that is not regulated, they will be asked to remove the animal immediately and will be referred to the conduct process. During the process, the student will have a meeting to discuss the situation and review policies and expectations, according to Childress.

“Emotional support animals must be approved prior to being brought to campus and involves a documentation and review process,” Childress said via email. “Once an animal is approved, the resident meets with housing staff to review expectations and guidelines to have their animal in the hall.”

Service pets are meant to be resources to the owner and allow support. There are still responsibilities and strategies that must be upheld to make sure the animal does not become disruptive to others within the resident hall. Childress also added that etiquette around service and emotional support animals is to not pet or touch these animals without permission from the animal’s owner. 

If an individual is thinking about getting a pet, the Heartland Humane Society offers affordable adoption and information on how to get involved. They can be found at 398 SW Twin Oaks Circle in Corvallis and are open every day of the week except Monday and Thursday. 

“Please adopt from Heartland Humane or your local humane society,” Zimmerman said via email. “Also please adopt older cats or dogs as well. They need just as much a home as a kitten does.”

According to Duke, if under the right circumstances and if an individual is willing to take care of the animal, a pet can be a rewarding experience. 

“If you find yourself seeking animal companionship while you’re in college, I would say that you should absolutely go for it if you have the means,” Duke said over email. “There may be a lot of people claiming that it is irresponsible or poor timing, but if you’re confident that your situation is suitable for supporting an animal then the stress relief and enjoyment that comes from pet ownership is thoroughly worth the effort.”