EDITORIAL: Rowan Pet Therapy needs more pet options for students

Currently, only dogs are part of the pet therapy program, but including different animals allows for students with allergies to participate. - Graphic / Julia Quennessen

Just less than five years ago, Rowan University introduced its Shrieber Family Pet Therapy Program, an outlet that provides Animal-Assisted Therapy for students or anyone affiliated with the school.

The idea of a college providing a pet therapy program isn’t a new one, with other local schools like Drexel and Temple also having these programs, as well as many other colleges across the country. When taking a look at these programs, there is one thing that many have in common: they only have dogs. 

To be clear, The Whit staff loves dogs and thinks therapy dogs are great, and with good reason. According to National Geographic, there are more than 50,000 therapy dogs across the nation. Spending time with furry friends is a great way to relieve mental struggles, but there are other pets that can bring the same support. 

The first that comes to mind are cats, and while they might not be the most common animal considered when it comes to pet therapy, they are rising in popularity. There are hundreds of cats registered that can do this job, and it makes sense why. 

Cats are the second most common household pet in America, just behind dogs, with over 30 million people having one of their own. Knowing that statistic, if they add cats to the pet therapy program here at Rowan it might mean that students who had to leave their beloved cats at home for the first time can find a bit of comfort in being with an animal they are familiar with. 

According to a study done by UCLA, around 70% of students going away to college feel homesick within that first year. If having cats in addition to the dogs can help those feeling like this, it is a positive reason to bring them on board. 

Also, take into consideration that some people might be afraid of dogs, perhaps due to an unfortunate incident from when they were younger. This is nothing personal to the Rowan therapy dogs. Still, no one looking for this option of therapy should have to stay away from it because they are scared of one particular animal, especially when cats are a great alternative. 

If this could be done and Rowan was able to find owners of trained cats to be a part of the program, it wouldn’t change anything besides making cat visits an option alongside dog visits. The way the appointment system is set up on the website, which is filling out a Google Form, it is easy to add an extra question for the person looking for pet therapy to pick their preference of animal.

While The Whit Staff feels like adding cats to the program is definitely a step in a great direction, there is one more factor that needs to be accounted for. There is no doubt that dogs and cats are adorable, but for some people, they can trigger allergies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 10-20% of the world population is allergic to cats and dogs.

Adding a hypoallergenic option, such as reptiles or ferrets, would give students with allergies the ability to engage in pet therapy. There are even types of cats and dogs that are allergy-friendly.

Overall, the idea of pet therapy is a great opportunity that has been brought onto college campuses, because the more options to help with a student’s mental health, the better. While dogs are a great start to the program, the thought of expanding to cats is just as exciting too. 

So no matter if someone is a dog or cat person, everyone should have the option to spend time with their favorite furry — or non-furry — little friends.

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