As hundreds of University of Texas Medical Branch students prepared to take final exams last week, therapy dogs Darla and Muri reported for duty outside the testing center to help diffuse tension in a fun and furry way.

A chorus of “oohs” and “ahs” came from each arriving group, followed by smiles and selfies, with some sprawling on the floor to hug the doggy duo.

Tails wagging, the dogs appeared ready for petting, playing and to offer moral support.

“There is documented evidence that human-animal interactions can have a positive effect on people, especially in reducing stress and anxiety,” said Patricia Richard, an associate dean for the School of Nursing at the medical branch.

It made a difference for Brittany Brossman, 25, a nursing student from Houston.

“Seeing the dogs here makes me feel super happy,” Brossman said. “It gives me a chance to breathe and take a brain break.”

Alongside the compassionate canines, students were also treated to a cornucopia of healthy snacks, bottled water and miniature candy bars.

Abbey Rohaly from The Woodlands and Madison Lankford from Dallas, both second-year nursing students, piled up apples to munch on after their 1 p.m. exam on mental health. They took time to scratch Muri’s ears before heading into the classroom.

“I think it’s great that the faculty thinks about stuff like this — a little moment of happiness in a stressful week,” Rohaly said.

Finals continued through Friday last week for students in nursing, medicine, health professions and graduate programs.

Darla and Muri, with their owners Trelle Dandridge and Laura Hafferty, offer services through Pet Partners, a local nonprofit organization.

It’s the third time the nursing school has hosted the group’s therapy dogs, said Elena Fajardo, Richard’s executive assistant.

“Students have been appreciative and positive about dogs,” Fajardo said.

“There’s a complete change in the mood. You can feel the tension dissipate.”


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