By Rob Shaw | Tribune Staff
Published: December 13, 2011
Updated: March 21, 2013 at 11:24 AM
GULFPORT - They have brought smiles to those in nursing homes and hospitals. They've been at the sides of rape victims and kids having a tough time testifying in stressful criminal cases. Now, therapy dogs are bringing their soothing, tail-wagging social skills to another group for the first time. Law-school students wigged out by the pressures of final exams. "It's kind of nice to take a break," said Diana Evans, a third-year law student at Stetson University College of Law who paused for a few minutes Monday at the school library to de-stress with a pair of dogs in the lobby. "To walk away from it and forget about it for a little while."
This time of year is the most stressful, when students find themselves camped out in the library for hours for marathon cramming sessions. As Evans was giving a golden retriever named Duncan a belly rub, Ashley Rector stopped to pause with the paws for a while. "I love dogs," said Rector, a second-year law student. "It's relaxing to come and pet them for a little bit. "It relieves the stress and it puts things into perspective," Rector added. "Life is just not about taking law-school exams." Professor Peter Fitzgerald is Duncan's owner. He likes to bring his dogs into the office throughout the year. "I have students and faculty come in and say, "I need a dog,' " Fitzgerald said. "They don't care about me; they want to talk to the dog." Duncan was joined Monday by Brando, a German shepherd owned by Stetson graduate Amanda Hanson. Brando spends much of his time at depositions and counseling sessions triggered by traumatic criminal cases. A victim or witness might be shut down or clammed up before their new four-legged friend shows up. "It kind of breaks the ice in the rooms," said Hanson, who runs Pawsibilities Registered Therapy Dogs. Stetson's dog therapy program mirrors those which already have been tried at law schools at Yale, the University of San Francisco and George Mason. "Even if it's just a quick five-minute break to come in and pet the animals and go back to the books, it's a nice break," Fitzgerald said.