Yes, you read that headline correctly.
Campus Reform reports that “therapy llamas” are the hot new fad on a number of college campuses in the United States, including Radford University, the University of South Florida, and — where else? — the University of California-Berkeley.
The theory goes that taking a study break to spend a few minutes petting cuddly animals like dogs, cats, and now llamas for some reason functions a stress reliever during the tension of final exam week.
“As feelings of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion are at their peak during this time, petting animals for even just a few minutes can help boost your mood and reduce these negative feelings,” says USF’s Center for Student Well-Being, which organizes the campus’s “Paws & Relax” — essentially a miniature petting zoo for twenty-somethings — event every semester at the end of November.
As for why llamas specifically are chosen as therapy animals, veterinarian Dr. Kathy Becker says the critters are ideal because they “can be very friendly, curious and social, and many enjoy being around people,” not to mention their normally gentle nature, soft fur, and unusual brand of cuteness.
The reception to the stunt from students was decidedly mixed, but definitely illuminating:
“Im pissed i wasnt on campus to see the llama,” one student tweeted, while another proclaimed, “I saw a llama today on campus and magically i feel like i’ll pass my finals thanks usf.”
Others were more skeptical of the event, however.
“They had llamas on campus today and this boy said ‘Can you take a picture of me throwing gang signs with the llama?’. Wtf,” a student wrote. “kinda wishing I saw a llama on campus yesterday. also kinda creeped out there were llamas on campus yesterday,” another student tweeted […]
Another tweet revealed that [Redford] students would also have the opportunity to undergo “free chair massages,” and participate in crafts and button-making.
“DUDE NO ONE TOLD ME THERE WAS THERAPY LLAMAS ON CAMPUS I TOTALLY WOULDVE WORN MY LLAMA PAJAMAS TO TAKE PHOTOS WITH THEM wow ok bye,” one Radford student tweeted, disappointed that they had missed the event.
Now, one would reasonable expect this sort of thing to be right up Berkeley’s alley. But while that campus joined in the fun, there was a surprising bit of pushback:
However, some in the Berkeley community were skeptical of the furry creatures’ benefits during finals week, and an article in The Daily Californian—titled, “Do animals help reduce stress? The llamas may not save your GPA”—raised questions about the merits of therapy animals on campus.
The article contends that animal “de-stress” events like “hugging therapy dogs” and “petting llamas” may not actually reduce stress, citing Yale doctoral candidate Molly Crossman’s 2015 article, “Effects of Interactions With Animals On Human Psychological Distress,” which found varying effects of stress reduction from human-animal interaction.
Now, every student of course needs study breaks. I remember all too well how hairy finals week could be, and this appears to be a pretty harmless activity.
But there’s a definite difference between taking the time to unwind and framing it as something more along the lines of mental-health treatment, and while the event itself seems fine, the way it’s talked about veers too close to the latter.
What do you think about all of this? Sound off in the comments below!
Hat tip: The Daily Caller