Pals for Life: A Source of Joy, Stress Relief for Students



Dog in the city park

Alison Nieto

On Wed. Sept. 27, Pals for Life, the non-profit organization located in Wayne, came to the University for an hour of tail wags, belly rubs and stress relief. Founded in 1985, the organization prides itself on its many outreach programs, which the community has welcomed with open arms. 

Candace Stringer smiled while Calvin, the English Cocker Spaniel lounging beside her on the floor, snuggled into the crook of her knee. A retired elementary school teacher, Stringer delights in the opportunity to go out and engage with people in her community, while also providing an invaluable service with her therapy pet. Calvin provides the perfect amount of support and relief for stressed out college students before midterms and finals.

Pals for Life provides “companion animal programs to people who need them so much,” according to its website. All pets within Pals for Life have to be certified under their therapy evaluation standards regardless of past therapy experience. Calvin was certified at What A Good Dog Inc., located in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

For Stringer, her favorite place to take Calvin with Pals for Life is the library, where he is an avid listener for kids trying to strengthen their literacy skills. She laughs as she recounts a moment in which a child hurriedly rushed over to Calvin in order to give him a recap on the events that had transpired in the book since they had last met. 

“They’re reading to a dog, they’re reading to a bunny, they’re not even reading to me!” she says of the confidence children gain from reading with Calvin. 

Program Director Kristen Abbott spoke about the impact Pals for Life has had on college campuses and how the organization has grown. Although they are acclimated to the interest in their program just from the way people interact with animals, one thing that still shocks Program Director Kristen Abbott about the University is the sheer number of students who come out to see the dogs. 

“One year we had 600 students show up,” she said, attributing the large numbers to Pals for Life’s guarantee of time with multiple therapy animals, including bunnies, Marbles and Bubbles. 

The program was originally meant for stress relief and homesickness. As the event has become more popular on campus, more students who do not have animals of their own are coming to reap the biochemical and psychological effects of the therapy animals. Studies have shown that owning a pet significantly reduces stress levels and provides for a much healthier outlook on life.  People find solace in animals because they are something you can connect with that “doesn’t judge you in return.” 

Currently, there are 130 pet volunteers and last year alone, Pals for Life made well over 500 visits. Stringer said she “always feels happy when kids say ‘This is my favorite day!’ and you know they really come because of the animals, they come to hug a pet.”

Abbott recounts a moment in which a student admits that she had been having a hard time and was thinking about leaving the University, but after 90 minutes with the animals, she was able to decide she was going to stay and get the help she needed. 

She said the animals were the bridge between her and getting the help she needed, and often times, students have a hard time accessing the resources available to them by the University.