At some universities students can book into a sort of pet centre and spend some time stroking cats, dogs, rabbits, almost anything soft and cuddly. Studies have shown that this reduces student stress. How we laughed! No such thing in our day. Student Health dispensed the birth control pill and occasionally antidepressants and maybe a bit of advice. But basically, we were supposed to be able to cope with the pressure of our studies.
However, really it is no laughing matter. Depression among young people has become a serious problem. News reports have told of increasing numbers of students actually committing suicide. So what has changed?
- Student debt spiralling out of control - tuition fees and no maintenance grants!
- Increased numbers of students who may not really be prepared for independent study, often having been spoon-fed through their A-Levels.
- Reduced contact time between students and tutors as universities try to make ends meet.
- Students opting for courses because they think they may offer greater chance of employment, rather than studying something about which they are passionate.
- The increasingly gloomy prospect of not actually finding employment after university.
And then, this morning, I came across a report about Emotional Support Animals, such an increasingly common thing, apparently, in the USA that they are simply referred to by their acronym. Reading between the lines, I decided that the gist of the article is as follows. The USA is a big country and people travel around it a lot by plane. Some people get anxious and find that having a fluffy bunny to stroke during the flight settles their nerves. Animals can travel by plane but it is rather pricey. However, if the animal is designated an ESA it can travel free. So seeing-eye dogs can accompany blind travellers without any problem. If you are simply nervous and stressed and want your ESA to go free you need a letter from your psychiatrist or therapist certifying that Fido or Tiddles is indeed absolutely necessary for your wellbeing.
So far, so good. Except that you can acquire a letter like that from an online service and pet pigs, ducks and even a peacock have been known to travel with their owners. One chap even admitted that he simply wanted to take his dog to visit family in a distant state; the dog was rather excitable and so he had to sedate it to ensure calm travel.
Even one of the therapists tacitly agreed that it was a system open to abuse, including a clause that should the dog turn put to be aggressive then the permit letter was void.
Airlines are having increasing problems with ducks in the aisle, cats urinating on the drinks trolley and, of course, dog poo!
Time for a rethink on the petting therapy front!