WSU to host “Paws to Destress”event

McKenna Scherer, Features Reporter

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If someone is in need of some furry comfort and companionship before the end of the fall semester, Winona State University’s Paws to Destress event is the place to be.

Paws to Destress, an event that will be held from 1-3 p.m. on Dec. 7 in the Integrated Wellness Complex, brings therapy-trained animals to campus for students to interact with.

The therapy-trained dogs at this event truly are “good boys”, all required to have at least their Canine Good Citizenship certification, and some having even more qualifications such as having completed a therapy dog test with Therapy Dogs International.

Plus, all dogs there have been vaccinated, insured and respond to all basic commands like sit, down, come, stay, can walk nicely on a leash, can sit politely to be pet and much more.

Along with the dogs, there will also be other activities occurring and added features to make the event even more fun for students while they wait for their turn to pet the dogs.

The Winona State Health Advocates will be coordinating a few stress management activities, the Psychology Club will bring in stress management tips and stress “doggy bags” to give out, and the First Gen Warriors will be bringing in Red Bubble stickers to sell as a fundraiser for their organization.

Touching Moments, an organization that works closely with the Paws to Destress event and other animals, will also be there to give door-prizes for students and selling doggy cookbooks.

Shelley Ellingson, the Corporate Training Supervisor for Touching Moments, gave further information on Touching Moments’ continuous collaboration with the Paws to Destress event.

Touching Moments is a nonprofit organization based in the La Crescent area and has been participating in the Paws to Destress event since it was introduced as “Nutts for Mutts” in 2012. The organization has since presented various dogs, cats and mini horses to the event and provides the majority of the therapy-trained dogs as well.

Ellingson said that both the handlers and animals enjoy coming back to Winona State’s Paws to Destress event every school year and will continue doing so.

The Paws to Destress event will be in its 7th year, as it has been occurring once per semester – the week prior to finals for the students on campus – since 2012. A huge hit, there are easily 300-350 students coming in to interact with all of the animals at the event.

Since Winona State did not always allow events like this, Lynda Brzezinski stepped up to work with Campus Legal to finally find a way to hold an event with multiple therapy-trained animals on campus.

Brzezinski, both a Winona State counselor and primary coordinator for the Paws to Destress event, has worked with the program to help it evolve and continue to be a successful event.

“As a counselor at Winona State, having trained therapy dogs brings a lot of comfort to students who are depressed, anxious and/or homesick,” Brzezinksi said. “These offerings have been quite popular and the most frequent thing I hear from a student is, ‘Oh, I just miss my dogs so much.’”

The Paws to Destress event came from the collaborative effort from both Brzezinski and Health Promotions, each combining their individual events – Nuts for Mutts and Destress Fest – into one. Thus, Paws to Destress came to life.

During the fall, there are multiple dogs of all different breeds and ages that attend the event. During the spring, there are often other animals that attend as well; in previous years, there have been cats, miniature donkeys, and a miniature horse.

Brzezinski also runs the “Afternoons with Aiden” and previously “Wednesday’s with Winston” on campus, having seen how much drop-in time spent with animals can positively affect students. She plans on continuing to bring dogs to campus for as long as she can, and while Winston will most likely retire in another year, Aiden will continue coming back to Winona State for a few more years before Brzezinski brings on her next therapy dog.

“I love seeing students smile and melt when they interact with the dogs,” Brzezinski added. “I’ve even seen male students get on the ground to kiss the dogs.”

The day of, students and those attending the event will sign a waiver to be allowed to interact with all the different animals there, and from then on, may stay up to the entirety of the time the event runs.