Evaluating College Student Interest - in Pet Therapy

 
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JOURNAL OF AMERICAN COLLEGE HEALTH, VOL. 57, NO. 5

Clinical & ProgramNote

                    Evaluating College Student Interest
                              in Pet Therapy

               Kathleen N. Adamle, RN, PhD, AOCN; Tracy A. Riley, RN, PhD;
                                Tracey Carlson, RN, MSN

Abstract. The first year of college can be extremely stressful,               Because a new college student has not yet developed prima-
especially for students residing on campus. Objective: The authors            ry relationships at the university setting, attachment-related
obtained information from college freshmen about their relation-              stress can lead to a poor college experience and dissatisfac-
ships with pets and investigated interest in a pet therapy program as                                        2
                                                                              tion with the life transition.
social support for transient stressful periods. Participants: As part
of a university orientation program, 246 college fieshman attended               Pets are pervasive in the United States; more than 72
 I of 5 health issues sessions offered during the 2006-2007 aca-              million dogs and nearly 82 million cats5 reside in American
demic year. Approximately 50 freshmen attended each session.                  homes. In 2006, half of all pet owners considered their pets
Method: Participants completed a questionnaire at the beginning               to be members of the family.5 Recent literature on social
of the session, followed by a 20-minute presentation about pet
                                                                              support and quality of life indicates that having a network
therapy that ended with pet therapy visitation. Results: Students                                                                         6 8
identified that visits with certified pet therapy dogs could be ben-          of relationships, including pets. results in better health, 3',
eficial to college freshman during their first year away from home.           and there is evidence to suggest a therapeutic role of pets
                                                                                                    67 9
Conclusions: These students indicated that a pet therapy program              for human support. ' ' -13
could temporarily fill the absence of previous support systems and               Pet therapy has been used successfully for managing stress
be a catalyst for establishing new social relationships.
                                                                              in populations with diverse illnesses and in disaster situa-
Keywords: college students, mental health, pet therapy                        tions6"1 4 ; however, reports of this intervention in relatively
                                                                              healthy populations experiencing transient periods of signifi-
                                                                              cant stress, such as college students, have not been reported.
      She first year of a college student's life provides tran-               Pet therapy may be the catalyst to begin an establishment of
       sitions in nearly every aspect of daily living. Stress                 social relationships and lessen the attachment-related stress
       is inherent with these changes. 1 For the most part,                   experienced by freshman college students. The purpose of
freshman college students are healthy young adults whose                      this preliminary study was to obtain background information
goals are to be successful in academic studies as well as to                  from freshmen college students about their relationships with
integrate their lives in the social systems of a college or uni-              pets and investigate interest in having a pet therapy program
versity. Most freshmen successfully manage this transition,                   on campus as social support for transient stressful periods.
but some have greater difficulty adjusting to their new sur-2
                                                                                                        METHOD
roundings and changes in their daily family attachments.
In addition to conforming to new patterns of daily living is                                 Design, Setting, and Sample
the expectation that college freshmen will form new social                       This preliminary cross-sectional study was conducted
connections and attachments to university-based groups. 3'4                   at a large public northeastern Ohio university. Although
                                                                              the university has a multiple-campus network, the study
   Dr Adanle is an assistant professor at the College of Nursing              was conducted only on the largest campus (almost 23,000
at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Dr Riley is an associate              students), as it has the largest percent of degree-seeking,
pr(9fessor at the College qf Nursing at Kent State Universi,v. Ms             first-time freshman (approximately 3,800 students). The
Carlson is the Director of BaccalaureateNursing Programs at
Kent State Universit.y.                                                       majority of these first-time freshman (82%) reside in uni-
                                                                                                                              5
   Copyright © 2009 Heldref Publications                                      versity-owned or -operated housing on campus.'

                                                                        545
Adamle et a/

   All incoming students were required to attend 2 univer-
sity orientation sessions each semester of their first year.
Orientation sessions on this campus were developed to help
freshmen acclimate to their new surroundings, and the stu-
dents may self-select sessions based on a variety of topics.
Sessions include topics such as protection and safety, uni-
versity health services' health promotion center, women's
health services, psychological services, and a nutritional
outreach program. Students self-registering for our health
issues orientation session were aware in advance that ani-
mals would be present. All students attending our health
issues session during the 2006-2007 academic year were
informed about the research study when the session began,
and all agreed to participate; thus, a total of 246 students
were surveyed during 5 separate orientation sessions. Each          FIGURE 1. Pets Bring Home-Style Therapy to University
                                                                    Students.
session averaged 50 freshman students.

                         Procedure
                                                                 family pet at home and their perceived value of the pet within
   Students attending the health issues session about alter-
                                                                 their family, (2) previous knowledge of pet therapy programs,
native and complementary therapy using pets were provid-
                                                                 (3) their opinions about receiving a visit from pet therapy
ed a 2-part questionnaire upon entering the environment. A
                                                                 teams while living on campus, and (4) any possible perceived
cover sheet was attached to the questionnaire that explained
                                                                 benefits after receiving a visit from the pet therapy teams.
the purpose of the study, Institutional Review Board and
                                                                    Prior to its use, the questionnaire was reviewed for
Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approv-
                                                                 content validity by 2 PhD-prepared faculty researchers
al, university administrative support, risks and benefits
                                                                 with expertise in the area of mental health. Following item
involved in participation, and anonymity of participants.
                                                                 review and refinement, the questionnaire was deemed suit-
Consent, completion, and collection of the questionnaire
                                                                 able for use in this preliminary study.
took approximately 15 minutes at the beginning of our
orientation session. The purpose of the questionnaire was                                  Analysis
to collect background data from students about their pets;          Quantitative data were entered into a data management
determine if students had knowledge of pet therapy pro-          and analysis program (SPSS version 15.0, Chicago, SPSS
grams, if they had interaction with pet therapy programs in
                                                                 lnc). Entries were verified for accuracy and the data were
the past, and if they would enjoy a visit from a pet therapy     analyzed descriptively. When indicated, differences were
program while living away from home.                             evaluated with the Mann-Whitney U test at p = .05.
   After the questionnaires were collected, the pet therapy         Qualitative data were provided in 2 ways. Participant
teams (6 dogs and their 6 human handlers) entered the room.
                                                                 comments written on the research questionnaires were
The first author introduced all the pet therapy teams and gave   transferred to a word-processing program. Similarly, stu-
a 20-minute presentation on alternative and complementary        dent participant comments recorded during the interactive
support theories and pet therapy programs in general. At the
                                                                 presentation portion of the session were transcribed from
end of the presentation, the students were asked if they had
                                                                 the written notes into the word-processing program. All
questions or if they could describe past experiences with
                                                                 entries were verified for accuracy prior to analysis.
any pet therapy program. All student participants and team
interactions were recorded by a program member, thereby                                    RESULTS
providing data for future qualitative analysis. After the
                                                                    Participants in this sample were fairly homogeneous;
question-and-answer period, the pet therapy teams (handler
                                                                 they were predominantly single (98%, n = 242), white
and dog) mingled among the participants so the students
                                                                 (91%, n = 224), and female (85%, n = 206). Ages ranged
could have physical contact with the certified therapy dogs
                                                                 from 17-25 years (M = 18.3 years, SD = 0.8 years). The
and interact with the handlers (see Figure 1).
                                                                 majority of participants (91%, n = 221) indicated they had
                         Measures                                a pet at home; 75% of the sample had dogs, 46% had cats.
                                                                 Other pets reported included birds, fish, reptiles, and farm
Pet Therapy Program Questionnaire
                                                                 animals; however, the numbers of those pets were insuf-
   This 2-part questionnaire was developed to assess issues      ficient for additional analyses.
related to the human-animal bond. 6'- Part A of the question-       A majority of participants with pets at home considered
naire contained multiple choice questions used to collect        them an integral part of their life (92.5%, n = 221) and indi-
sociodemographic information of interest necessary to describe   cated receiving support and comfort during stressful times
the sample. Part B included 13 yes or no questions designed      when interacting with their pets (90.3%, n = 214). Sufficient
to elicit information from each: for example, (1) having a       numbers of cat and dog owners were present to examine

546                                                                             JOURNAL OF AMERICAN COLLEGE HEALTH
Pet Therapy Program

differences in support/comfort based on type of pet. Those        knowing in advance animals would be present; therefore,
with dogs at home overwhelmingly conveyed support and             they may have had more interest in pet therapy than other
comfort received from their pet (76.6%, n = 183; Mann-            freshman students. Participants were mostly young, single,
Whitney U = 4,024, p = .00). Those with cats at home failed       white females; it is unknown if there would be similar
to report significant perceptions of support/comfort.             interest with more diverse residential college freshman.
   Data were then analyzed on the sample for findings spe-        Findings are also limited by the dichotomous nature of
cific to pet therapy programs. Only 41% (n = 100) reported        the pet therapy program questionnaire. Subtle nuances in
having heard about pet therapy in the past. However, the          participant responses were not possible, and it may be more
majority of those having heard about pet therapy programs         advantageous to include a Likert-type response format. The
also reported some experience with that therapy (n = 84).         findings are also limited in that subjective self-report data
An overwhelming majority of freshman (96%, n = 239)               were collected regarding individuals' past relationships
expressed positive student interest in the possibility of         with animals and their projected prediction of other stu-
introducing a pet therapy program on their campus.                dents' desires for interaction with pet therapy dogs.
   Written comments provided by the participants on the               Despite these limitations, preliminary support for a pet
questionnaires were examined for recurrent themes. Three          therapy program was indicated by this sample of incoming
themes were identified: Students who had pets at home             college freshman. Based on these findings, implementation
missed them, indicated interest in a pet therapy program on       of a pilot pet therapy program with visitation to residence
campus, and wanted the pets to visit their resident halls. Rep-   halls as an intervention for students experiencing transient
resentative written comments included the following: "I miss      stress has been initiated. Once the program is established as
my own dog so much, it would be nice to have one close by,"       an adjunct support at the university, future studies to refine
and "Will this program be available for students on campus at     specifics of the pet therapy intervention complete with
any time?" One student wrote about her personal experience        "dosage" intervals needs to be done with diverse samples in
while being a patient in a hospital setting: "I had pet therapy   diverse settings. Additional measures of the human-animal
visits when I was at Children's Hospital, and the visits were     relationship need to be developed and tested prior to use in
what I really looked forward to having each day." These           large-scale studies to better understand this phenomenon. In
results and similar comments provided preliminary student         addition, variables such as an individual's positive or nega-
support for initiating a pet therapy program on campus.           tive affinity for pets, an individual's cultural background,
                                                                  and the implications of previously owning a pet need to be
                         COMMENT                                  included in future research to clarify beneficial outcomes of
   Initial support for beginning a pet therapy program            a pet therapy program on a college campus.
with freshmen college students was provided by these
participants. The majority of participants indicated that                                       NOTE
they had left family pets at home, missed their pets while at         For comments and further information, address cor-
school, and believed that pet therapy visits would be benefi-     respondence to Kathleen Adamle, Kent State University,
cial as an additional support program for stressful periods.      College of Nursing, Henderson Hall, Kent, OH 44242, USA
     Results from this preliminary study indicated that a pet     (e-mail: kadamle@kent.edu).
therapy program could be accepted by first-time residen-
tial freshmen college students and may provide beneficial                                    REFERENCES
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  TITLE: Evaluating College Student Interest in Pet Therapy
SOURCE: J Am Coll Health 57 no5 Mr/Ap 2009

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