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What’s the deal with ‘llama therapy’ on campus?

Campus community. Source: Shutterstock

Several US colleges and universities have reportedly brought therapy llamas’ to their campuses in a bid to reduce the high levels of stress and anxiety among its students.

At the University of South Florida (USF), a “Paws & Relax” event saw students being treated with furry pets on Nov 28 through an effort initiated by USF’s Center for Student Well-Being, Campus Reform reported.

“As feelings of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are at their peak during this time, petting animals for even just a few minutes can help boost your mood and reduce these negative feelings,” the centre claims.


USF isn’t the only one bringing in therapy animals to destress their students –  Radford University and the University of California, Berkeley have done the same, too.

For Radford’s December “Library Stress Buster”, rabbits and llamas were on offer for students to pet their stress away. The Pet Hug Pack, a therapy animal team organised by Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, visits UC Berkeley campus the first Tuesday of every month. The UC-Berkeley News account tweeted therapy llamas were on campus on Dec 4.

While there has been an ecstatic reception from some quarters of these universities, not everyone believes in the healing powers of these animals, therapy or not.

UC Berkeley senior Daniel Shepard, called the Pet Hug Pack events “silly”, as quoted by this op-ed on The Daily Californian. The business administration major said his recent interaction with the animals had “zero” effect on his stress.

“The only positive effect is that it did give me something to giggle about afterward,”  Shepard said. “The bottom line is that I think there’s too much attention on animals. People are paying attention to the animals to the point that they’re ignoring humans.”

In the said op-ed titled “Do animals help reduce stress? The llamas may not save your GPA”, Jared Brewer quoted a November 2016 article “Effects of Interactions With Animals On Human Psychological Distress” by Yale doctoral candidate Molly K. Crossman which found “murky body of evidence on the influence of HAI (human-animal interaction) on distress.”

Studies have shown varying results, from positive short-term effects, no effects and some observational studies even linking higher rates of distress from having to care or being attached to a companion or service animal.

Evidence appears to show that HAI may only have “small-to-medium” effects on distress though it’s unclear whether it’s the animals themselves accounting for these effects, according to Crossman’s paper.

But for Wendy Taylor-Tanielian, marketing manager of Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, the smiles on students’ face are proof enough.

“Sometimes a smile is the best statistic you can get. We leave the science up to the scientists and we go with our interactions,” she said.

“I think you can actually just witness when our animals are on campus because you can hear the squeals … and you can just watch people’s faces change.”

“(Students) may be going across campus with a stern look and their entire dispositions change.”

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