Pet rescue to facilitate stress relief for students
Program to come during finals for student veterans
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 17:04
Will you attend the event?
Approximately 20 wagging tails will be on campus this week to provide veteran students with a little stress relief.
In a joint effort, the Veteran’s Academic Resource Center, Student Counseling Center and Burnett Honors College Honors Educational Reach Out are hosting an event called Pets for Vets at Memory Mall, across from the Arena, from noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25.
Pet Rescue by Judy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue of cats and dogs, will be providing the canines that students will be allowed to walk, pet and interact with. The goal of the organization is always to rescue animals that are abandoned or in distress, update their vaccines and find good homes for them.
“[This kind of event] gives the animals great exercise and socialization and helps the students that miss their families and miss their own animals,” said Judy Sarullo, owner of Pet Rescue by Judy. “The interaction with animals always helps people relax.”
Pets for Vets is an event designed to promote the use of animals to de-stress UCF’s student veterans’ lives, highlight the sources available to them and help them adjust to civilian and college life while promoting the adoption of rescued animals from the shelter. Overseeing the event is Debbie Haughton, licensed mental health counselor and student counseling center liaison for the VARC.
“[Animal interaction] is alternative therapy to helping students with anxiety, especially veterans,” Haughton said. “Interacting with dogs has a calming effect on our brains, heart rate and blood pressure. The unconditional love from animals is so beneficial to people.”
The VARC, a service of the division of Student Development and Enrollment Services, provides a one-stop shop for academic and support services necessary to prepare veterans for successful completion of their degree at UCF. Each semester, the VARC partner offices — Veteran Services, Career Services, Student Disability Services, Counseling Center, SARC and Transfer and Transition Services — offer a series of outreach activities such as Pets for Vets.
Although Pets for Vets is targeted toward student veterans, all UCF students are welcome to attend.
“[Pets for Vets] is an event for veterans, but [all other] students will definitely not be turned away,” said Tammie Nadeau, program coordinator for the VARC. “Programs are never the same. We make sure that we keep up-to-date with programs and services that are trending that will help the veteran student be successful.”
Outreach activities and support services such as the veteran mentoring program are funded by a grant, Funds for the Improvement of Post-secondary Education, from the Department of Education. United States Marine Corps veteran Cpl. Christopher O’Connor now serves as a veteran peer mentor with the VARC.
“Chris’ role as peer mentor is to provide guidance, resources and support to our veterans,” Nadeau said.
O’Connor is also a certified nonprofit professional with a bachelor’s degree in social work. As a combat veteran, his readjustment to civilian life was challenging due to injuries he sustained in battle. He, however, now knows firsthand how beneficial the “unconditional love” from a canine companion can be.
Lucas, a 70-pound, 16-month-old pure bred Golden Retriever was assigned to O’Connor at 11 months old. Lucas was rescued by Carolina Patriot Rovers and is the namesake of fallen soldier Cpl. Kevin A. Lucas, 20, of Greensboro, N.C., who died May 26, 2006, in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
“[Lucas] and his brother were rescued from the mountains of North Carolina as 10-week-old pups,” said David Cantara, founder of Carolina Patriot Rovers. “He was trained [to be a service dog] from there.”
O’Connor continued Lucas’ training as he himself was being trained to become a certified service dog trainer. Lucas now provides O’Connor with a sense of healing, routine, socialization and companionship.
“[Lucas] also creates a barrier between me and people [creating a social comfort zone],” O’Connor said.
The barrier helps post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers cope with feelings of detachment from others.
Lucas is also the unofficial mascot for Fairways for Warriors, a nonprofit organization that provides therapy to veterans through golf clinics that teaches veterans how to play golf.
“[Lucas] is the best range finder, period,” O’Connor said.
Both O’Connor and Lucas will be on hand at Pets for Vets for veteran peer support.