By Diana Morose
We are at the final stretch of this semester and chances are you may be feeling overwhelmed, but some cute and cuddly, furry friends on campus may help you with that.
You may not be aware of our on-campus “Pet-to-Destress" program that allows students and faculty alike to de-stress by hanging out with emotional support bunny rabbits.
The program, started by the Office of Accessibility Services, was expanded to include the bunnies when they noticed that more and more people were coming in to interact with Lulu, their Labradoodle. Lulu was only on campus every other week on Thursdays, so they needed animals that would help satisfy the demand and be able to live on campus.
Enter our little furry friends, the bunnies.
The first bunny to be adopted was Lola and, with the overwhelmingly positive reception she received, they adopted Oliver as their second bunny before rounding it out with Anita, who was adopted only one month ago.
Amarilis Rodriguez, a senior majoring in photography, was a familiar face at the accessibility services office. She began to visit the bunnies on a semi-regular basis after seeing a poster about them in R. Kirk Landon Student Union.
It was a good temporary stress reliever for a couple of hours that she could look back on and think “I played with some bunnies today.”
Where upcoming deadlines and assignments may be overwhelming, the bunnies seem to have a positive emotional effect on Barry students and faculty.
“After interacting with the bunnies, they feel better. We know this because we have been taking unofficial data,” said Lina Villegas, the director of the Office of Accessibility Services. “We have a before-and-after form that our students, faculty, and staff can complete. It is voluntary and stress levels go from ten to two, five to zero. So, we have seen that it does have a positive effect.”
Villegas recalls seeing professionals, faculty, and staff, having therapeutic experiences with the rabbits.
“They say, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing. I came because today has been crazy. I feel so stressed, and so I wanted to come and sit down with the bunnies,’ that has been very, very amazing to see that they have that impact on everyone,” she said.
Villegas said there are some rules and guidelines to follow before playing with the bunnies.
To interact with the bunnies, students will have to sign in and then enter the play area with either no shoes or with shoe protectors on. They are not allowed to feed the bunnies any outside food or to bring in any food or drinks inside the play area and, while petting the bunnies is okay, holding them is not allowed.
The Office of Accessibility Services is located on the third floor of the R. Kirk Landon Student Union building. The bunnies are available to the Barry community on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
All three bunnies were adopted from Penny & Wild Smalls of South Florida, a local 501(c) non-profit rabbit and guinea pig rescue. Follow the organization on Instagram @pennyandwildsosfl_animalrescue