In this interview, we discuss the Wags for Wellness program, which allows UMD students to connect with therapy dogs up to three times a month, right here on campus! Sarah Wilson, Stress and Mental Wellness Program Coordinator at the University Health Center, coordinates this program, and answered all of our questions below.
TTC: Thank you for agreeing to interview with us! To start with: in general, how does your program support the wellness of UMD students?
- SW: Wags for Wellness is a program of the University Health Center featuring volunteer therapy dogs and their human handlers. All of the volunteers we work with are certified through People. Animals. Love. (PAL) to provide love, connection, companionship, and stress relief. Visits are free and open to all University of Maryland students and many find them to not only be an outlet for supporting their emotional wellbeing, but also a new way to build social supports with fellow students. Not to mention, it is also a great way to connect with other loving animals for those who may be missing their childhood or family pets.
TTC: What one thing would you want students to know about Wags for Wellness?
- SW: Our regular volunteer therapy dogs and their humans who commit to attending the same sessions each month really add a special element to Wags for Wellness. During each of the Monday, Thursday, and Friday visits we try hard, with some exception, to have the same base group of volunteers. That means, for example, if you are able to attend our Thursday visits, you can typically expect to see the same therapy dogs, with some occasional, additional visiting therapy pups. This consistency is especially powerful for those who have started forming a bond with a particular dog. In addition to our regulars, we also have an amazing group of volunteers who attend as their schedule allows and it is always really special to have them back on campus while also welcoming new folks on occasion, too!
TTC: What do you do to maintain your own mental health, balance, and comprehensive wellbeing?
- SW: This is such a great question! My mental health and wellness journey is always changing. Truly! And this is OK. For me, I’ve noticed as I grow and evolve my needs change, which means adapting my self-care strategies. I’m currently supporting my mental health and wellness through a regular yoga practice. For me, yoga has proven to be such a powerful practice for remaining present and recognizing my emotions. I also require structure and guidance so my regular practice takes place at a warm and welcoming class with great teachers. However, I also love practicing in my home. There are some great, free yoga resources online! Plus, this Spring Semester I’m excited to take my first yoga class at Studio A (formerly the Art and Learning Center) at The Stamp.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention my personal love for Wags for Wellness. I am consistently amazed by the power of an animal-human bond. Without fail, if I’ve had a hard or stressful week, those pups make a substantial difference in my mood. I always prioritize taking a moment to myself to sit with them and savor a few pets.
TTC: Wags for Wellness sounds like it could have such a positive impact on a person’s mental health and stress levels. How can students access it?
- SW: You can find Wags for Wellness across campus at multiple locations. During the Fall and Spring semester we’re at:
- Student Involvement Suite at the Stamp Student Union on the first Monday of every month from 11am-1pm,
- Ground Floor of the University Health Center on the second Thursday of every month from 11am-1pm, and
- Second Floor of McKeldin Library on the third Friday of every month from 1pm-3pm.
- This is the standard schedule but we occasionally have one-time pop-ups across campus, too! You can keep up with our visits on the Health Center social media channels and on our website (go.umd.edu/wagsforwellness). We can’t wait to see you at our therapy dog visits later this semester!
TTC: Thank you so much for all this information. Is there anything else you think students should know?
- SW: Wags for Wellness couldn’t happen without our tremendous community partner, People. Animals. Love. (PAL, for short). All of our therapy pups and their human handlers are volunteers through this amazing DC-based non-profit. PAL “leverages the power of the human-animal bond” and has been such a supporter of the University of Maryland’s every-growing Wags for Wellness program.