By Channing Prins
Donkeys and a few of their furry friends once again met SUNY Plattsburgh students over Zoom last week during another De-Stressing with Donkeys event, hosted by Thera-Pets and Kickin’ Up Dust Farm.
Students who Zoomed in were able to join owner of Kickin’ Up Dust Farm and president of Thera-Pets Holly Besaw to visit the donkeys and other farm animals, like alpacas, goats and horses. Thera-Pets is a program that teams up with farms to use their animals in animal therapy.
“The therapy program leases our farm and animals to be able to provide a service to the community,” Besaw said.
At SUNY Plattsburgh, De-Stressing with Donkeys began in the spring of 2019 and is now a semesterly event organized by the Student Health and Counseling Center, where the therapy donkeys would come to campus. Last semester, the event was virtual due to the pandemic.
Senior Olivia Forcino, double majoring in entrepreneurship and marketing, said her counselor at the health center was one of the original organizers, and participating in the event was something she needed in order to cope with her stress.
“My main concern that I bring up to the [Counseling Center] is that I need ways to cope with stress,” Forcino said. “I have a lot on my plate, and sometimes I need to de-stress, because I don’t always want to just go to my room and cry. It’s no fun.”
Mental Health Counselor and Outreach Coordinator at the health center Allsun Ozyesil said being in-person with the animals and being able to pet them releases more serotonin, one of the main hormones in the human body that helps you be happier and less stressed.
“There’s nothing like the in-person for sure, and I think the research would reflect that too,” Ozyesil said.
Since the pandemic began, Ozyesil has tried to keep this program going at SUNY Plattsburgh with Zoom.
“I came upon something on social media saying that these corporate offices were having llamas zoom bomb their meetings, just for fun. And I was like, ‘Oh that’s an interesting idea,’” Ozyesil said. “I think that novelty brings attention and can be really fun switching things up. So I contacted the donkey people, Holly and Ken Besaw, and asked if it would be possible to Zoom with the donkeys. I was trying to think of how to possibly make it happen remotely.”
Forcino said the Zoom event ended up bringing a lot of attention to the program.
“It’s great because on Zoom you get to see all the animals,” Forcino said. “They obviously can’t bring every animal to campus. That would be kind of difficult.”
Ozyesil also said bringing the program to Zoom still allowed participants to see the animals virtually rather than not at all.
“I can feel myself feeling good by seeing the little donkeys and goats on the screen and not having it just feel like a YouTube video, but actually being able to look at them and that they can hear you,” Ozyseil said. “It ends up being a pretty good alternative to the in person.”
Even Besaw said she enjoyed seeing the students enjoying the animals on the screen.
“I peeked on the camera and saw faces and everyone was smiling ear-to-ear,” Besaw said. “So just being able to see them automatically causes people to feel happy, and that causes less stress in your life.”
Kicking Up Dust Farm, located at 362 Peasleeville Road in Schuyler Falls, is currently open for visitors by appointment only due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Ozyesil said students who might need another therapy session with a furry friend should take advantage of Thera-Pets and the programs they offer.
“It would be really good for students to know that they can connect with Thera-Pets on their own and visit the farm in small groups,” Ozyesil said.
Forcino suggested students continue to watch for de-stressing events and other fun activities happening on-campus, even if they’re on Zoom.
“I think I would just tell students to take advantage of the events being offered on Zoom,” Forcino said. “It was just really cool, and there was a great turnout.