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How a dog is helping students cope with stresses of university life

Students in Newcastle team up to take Bessie, a three-year-old Jack Russell, for a stroll.

Bessie, a three-year-old Jack Russell who is joining the fight to help students at Newcastle University with their mental health (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Bessie, a three-year-old Jack Russell who is joining the fight to help students at Newcastle University with their mental health (Owen Humphreys/PA)

By Tom Wilkinson, PA

Bessie, a three-year-old Jack Russell, is joining the fight to help students with their mental health.

As the new academic year gets under way, with all the pressures that entails for students, Newcastle University is offering them the chance to borrow Bessie and take her for a walk around local parks.

Other universities offer therapy dogs for stressed students, and some have dog-walking schemes, but Newcastle University believes theirs is the only one that lets people take a dogs out for an unsupervised stroll.

Bessie belongs to Sally Ingram, the university’s director of Student Health and Wellbeing, who said: “Research has shown that time spent with animals can alleviate worry, provide comfort and help people deal with feelings of isolation and loneliness – all issues that students can sometimes struggle with.

“Combining this with fresh air and physical exercise is a good recipe for positive physical and mental wellbeing.”

She said the dog-walking sessions have the lowest drop-out rate of any of the wellbeing services the department provides, as people do not want to let Bessie down by not turning up to walk her.

Sessions last an hour and students are encouraged to pair up to walk her, so they get to chat while they take Bessie out, and explore Newcastle’s parks.

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Bessie takes the strain for the students (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Friends Paige Coope, a philosophy student, and James Woods, who is taking a combined business, media and communication degree, have taken Bessie out.

Ms Coope said: “I would recommend this service to anyone who may be stressed with exams or for those who simply want the company of a great dog and have a spare hour.”

Mr Woods said Bessie is very calm and cheerful and he looks forward to walking her.

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Students Paige Coope (right) and James Woods with Sally Ingram and Bessie (Owen Humphreys/PA)

He said: “She is sure to bring you some much-deserved downtime when you need it – especially if you miss your pets from home.”

The university was advertising its scheme to coincide with World Mental Health Day.

PA

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