A student takes time in between exams to pet one of the dogs.Students who felt stressed during spring final exams had the opportunity to walk with a companion–an affectionate rescue dog. “Pets for Vets,” an outreach event to support veterans, was open to everyone on campus.

Pet Rescue by Judy, a no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the rescuing, rehabilitating, re-socializing and re-homing of adoptable companion animals provided 20 dogs to students to walk, pet and interact with. Studies show that, when interacting with an animal, it lowers one’s blood pressure and helps that person to relax. It can also help increase socialization and provide companionship.

Veteran Chris O’Connor and his dog Lucas are inspiring examples of how “man’s best friend” can provide a sense of purpose, healing, routine, socialization and companionship for a combat veteran adjusting to student life after being in the military. O’Connor’s adjustment to civilian life was challenging due to his PTSD symptoms, shrapnel wounds and traumatic brain injury after being in combat in Iraq. Back in the states, he had no plan. That is when he decided to get a companion, Lucas−an AKC Star Puppy AKC Canine Good Citizen provided by the Patriot Rovers. Around the dog’s neck are the identification tags of a soldier Corporal Kevin “Adam” Lucas who died May 26, 2006 in Iraq. O’Connor says that his dog “changed his life.” He now has a companion that enables him to socialize, go out in public without fear and gives him reason to get up in the morning. He is now successfully finishing his degree in social work and also works as a veteran peer mentor helping other veterans adjust to college life.

Pets for Vets was an event designed to promote the use of animals to de-stress students’ lives, highlight the resources available to them, help veterans adjust to college and civilian life, and promote the adoption of rescued animals from the shelter. Animal assisted therapy, an alternative approach to standard therapy and counseling, is designed to help improve the physical, emotional, social and cognitive functioning in people.

 The interactive activity is sponsored by the UCF Veterans Academic Resource Center, UCF Counseling Center and Burnett Honors College Honors Educational Reach Out. Also participating in the event will be the UCF Anxiety Disorders Clinic, UCF Marriage and Family Institute, Canine Companions for Independence, Camaraderie Foundation, Orlando Mobile Vet Center, Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Administration Medical Center, Southland Dog Training and the Student Veteran Association.