Students relieve stress at Pets for Vets event
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 16:04
A student I.D. and phone number was all that was needed for 15 to 20 minutes of love therapy from one of 20 canines at Pets for Vets on Wednesday.
The general feelings of the more than 120 students who rented the various canines at Memory Mall brought by Judy Sarullo, owner of Pet Rescue by Judy, were summed up nicely by UCF junior Mercedes Falquez.
“That was fun,” Falquez said. “I felt so relaxed. It was just so much fun to have a dog for a little bit, because they’re so happy just to be with someone.”
The event, hosted by the Veteran Academic Resource Center, Student Counseling Center, and Burnett Honors College Honors Educational Reach Out, brought both student veterans and non-veteran students together under “one tent” to de-stress from final exams. Overseeing the event was Debbie Haughton, licensed mental health counselor and student counseling center liaison for the VARC.
“[It’s great that] everybody that came to support and to be an outreach came together in such a way to support all the student veterans,” Haughton said.
Also in attendance was Deborah Beidel, professor and director of the UCF Anxiety Disorders Clinic. The clinic, located in the UCF Psychology Building, provides treatment to all veterans, students and non-students alike, who suffer from combat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Representing the Orlando Vet Center was counselor Johnny Chastain, an Air Force veteran and 2010 UCF School of Social Work graduate; the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based counseling center provides free readjustment counseling services to all war zone veterans and their families.
Army combat veteran and UCF junior Elizabeth Jackson was also on hand from the Orlando Vet Center. A PTSD and traumatic brain injury sufferer, Jackson brought Butch, her purebred bullmastiff service dog out to support the event.
“Whenever I’m having high anxiety, he just comes and plops his 160-pound self in my lap and demands the attention on him,” Jackson said. “It takes my mind off of what was causing me anxiety.”
Charles A. Trask, a Vietnam/Navy veteran, and Summit, his black Labrador retriever service dog, participated on behalf of Patriot Paws, a nonprofit organization that trains and provides service dogs at no cost to disabled American veterans, and others, with mobile disabilities to help restore physical and emotional independence.
“Summit has made my post-Vietnam life more bearable—happier—than before I received her,” Trask said.
Passing by after a three-hour final, UCF senior, Anna Nguyen experienced just how quickly a bond can be created after spending time with Max, a German shepherd/Labrador retriever mix.
“It definitely relieved my stress,” Nguyen said. “But now I’m sad because I didn’t want to give him back.”
Sampson, a goldendoodle therapy dog, was also on site with Southland Dog Training, Orlando-based trainer Tanya Stewart, and Cyndi Reina, co-owner of the company founded more than 25 years ago by her husband and master trainer, Vince Reina. The company, home-based in Lakeland, serves all counties in and around Central Florida.
“We do everything from basic obedience, advanced obedience, we do service dog training such as PTSD, mobility, and stability,” Reina said. “We are also proud to offer in-home dog training where you get one-on-one time with our certified dog training instructor.”
Volunteer Dennis Woodcum, an Army Vietnam veteran, returned to school after a thirty year pause and, come next week, will be a UCF graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Woodcum brought his own “regular” dog, Star, a Chihuahua-terrier mix to volunteer as well.
“My wife and I got her as a rescue from the Seminole County Humane Society,” Woodcum said. “I always say she makes deals with people, if you love her, she’ll love you.”
UCF freshman, William Nelson realized that all canines offer the same deal after taking Zuileka, a Labrador retriever/shepherd mix, for a walk.
“[She made me] miss my dogs back home and excited that I’m going home next week,” Nelson said. “[walking her] definitely relieved the stress.”