University of Central Florida students feeling any stress during final exams this week may want to relieve some of that tension by taking a walk with a companion – a grateful, affectionate rescue dog.
“Pets for Vets,” which is an outreach event to support veterans, is open to everyone on campus from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, on the Memory Mall by the UCF Arena.
The interactive event is sponsored by the Veteran Academic Resource Center, Student Counseling Center and Burnett Honors College Honors Educational Reach Out. Also participating 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.
Studies show that interacting with an animal lowers your blood pressure and helps people to relax. It can also help increase socialization and provide companionship.
Pet Rescue by Judy, a no-kill animal shelter dedicated to rescuing and finding homes for adoptable companion animals, will provide about 20 dogs for students to walk, pet and interact with.
Veteran Chris O’Connor and his dog Lucas are 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. He said he desperately needed to find a way to go back to school and start a new life after fighting for his country.
He went into the military because he wanted a purpose, a sense of family. After being injured and forced to come home, he said he felt lost and without a plan.
He started to learn about various resources available for help, and decided to get his dog Lucas provided by the Patriot Rovers. Lucas wears the dog tags of soldier Cpl. Kevin “Adam” Lucas, who died May 26, 2006, in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battallion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
O’Connor said Lucas changed his life. O’Connor now has a companion that enables him to socialize and go out in public without intense fear. Dog ownership forces him into a routine and gives him a purpose and reason to get up in the morning. Animal Assisted Therapy is designed to help improve the physical, emotional, social and cognitive functioning in people
He is successfully finishing his degree in social work, works as a Veteran Peer Mentor helping other veterans adjust to college life after the military, and is a mentor for the Wounded Warrior Project. In addition to all of his other accomplishments, he completed a fellowship with The Mission Continues.
The UCF Pets for Vets event is designed to promote the use of animals to de-stress students and student veterans’ lives, highlight the resources available to them, help them adjust to college and civilian life, and promote the adoption of rescued animals from the shelter.