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Stressed by college? Tell the therapy chicken about it

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College students and Woodstock just seem to go together.

Woodstock the chicken, that is ... who frequently attends the weekly sessions at the University of Minnesota where students (or staff) have a chance to take a break from what's troubling them and decompress by curling up with a live animal.

A program called Pet Away Worry and Stress (PAWS) is back for a second year at the U of M's Twin Cities campus.

Registered therapy animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, occasionally horses and one chicken are available for those who feel like taking a break would do them well. Their human handlers also tag along to the sessions provided Boynton Health Services and the University's Animal Assisted Interactions program.

The Pioneer Press paid a visit to a session this month and heard a veterinarian/professor's account of a student who spent 20 minutes hugging a therapy dog, finally confiding "I just bombed a test."

Tanya Bailey, who leads the Animal Assisted Interactions program and also looks after Woodstock the chicken, tells the newspaper some of the value of Pet Away Worry and Stress is that it gets students to come to the health center. Once there, they can see the a range of other health services available.

But apart from luring students into the health center, Bailey explained when PAWS first started last year that there's evidence petting an animal has health benefits in its own right. She says research suggests it can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones.

It's true. How many therapy chickens do you know who have their own Twitter feed?

An Animal Humane Society page on therapy animals points out that they are distinct from service animals, which are trained specifically to help handlers with disabilities.

The Pioneer Press says more than 60 animal/human volunteer teams are part of the roster that visit the U of M. Many are aligned with groups that also pay regular visits to hospitals, schools, or elder care centers.

North Star Therapy Animals provides a list of dozens of facilities it visits.

The Minnesota Daily made a video on a visit to a PAWS session last year.

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