Barks@Parks wide

Students participating in Barks@Parks pictured sitting in circles to get a chance to pet the dogs.

Iowa State is hosting Barks@Parks once again inside the upper rotunda of Parks Library to help students cope with stress. The event gives students a chance to greet and socialize with certified emotional support dogs and partake in other stress-relieving activities like coloring and puzzles.

During Prep Week, many students at Iowa State find themselves extremely stressed out by deadlines and exams at the end of the semester. Staff and faculty can empathize with students and the anxiety many feel near the end of the semester, so they've created the Barks@Parks program to help students briefly escape their stressors and love some dogs.

Barks@Parks has been around since 2014, receiving its name in 2015 after a Facebook competition to raise awareness about the event and to come up with a title for it. Since then it has been repeated every semester during Prep Week and Finals week, only being canceled for the pandemic during fall 2020 and spring 2021. Now Barks@Parks is back in full swing with plenty of stress-relieving activities for all students.

Students sat in two circles in the upper rotunda, one inside of the other, creating a circular hallway for the dogs to walk through, greeting and receiving pets from students. The dogs would move between people and rotate around while students would give out pets and socialize with each other. One dog who loved people but was stressed by other dogs also sat in the center of the inner circle, receiving individual attention from students who had made their way to the center.

The dogs were brought in by a variety of owners, some being staff or faculty members at Iowa State, others being members of the various local canine clubs. In order for dogs to be a part of Barks@Parks they needed to be certified support animals to ensure they would behave during the event. The event is even beneficial for some of the dogs, who need to reach a certain number of contact hours with the public before being allowed in places like nursing homes.

On the other side of the room sat tables outfitted with plenty of printed-out coloring sheets, crayons and a large puzzle for students to relieve their focus on. Program Specialist at Iowa State, Susan Gent explained some of the thoughts behind the exercises and activities offered in the upper rotunda throughout the day.

"So we partner with ISU Wellness and we have a massage person come in Monday, Wednesday, Friday for three hours and just does like six-minute little massages in a chair and then we just have some mindful exercises," Gent said. "Coloring is kind of one of those that are supposed to help clear the mind, we put a couple of puzzles out because sometimes there's just something about like focusing on something else that lets the worry or stress kind of take a break."

Working non-stop through the stress of college to finish work quickly sounds like a good idea, but many students quickly find themselves burnt out after just a short spurt of work. Gent and other Iowa State staff understand this struggle, driving them to create a relaxing atmosphere for students to take in during this final stretch of the semester.

Barks@Parks

Students at Barks@Parks pictured with one of the dogs at the event.

"I think it's a way for our staff to really demonstrate to the students that we understand that Prep Week as a stressful time and we empathize," Gent said. "There's something a little bit different about being away from home when you're dealing with stress. That seems like hugging a dog for a few minutes or petting their tummy or taking selfies with the dog. Just you know, just it's a good break."

Barks@Parks will continue through Prep Week and Finals Week, giving students plenty of chances to take the load off. The activities last from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. through the week with massages available Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The massages are only offered during Prep Week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The library, however, will remain open 24/7 through the end of the semester. For more information on Barks@Parks or the library follow this link to the Parks Library web page.

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