Puppy power

Sep. 4—WILLIMANTIC — This year, students at Eastern Connecticut State University have some canine allies to help them get their semester started in as normal a fashion as possible.

Whether away from home for the first time or returning to school, the start of the fall semester is always challenging — pandemic or no pandemic.

With some returning to in- person learning for the first time in one or more semesters, there may be added anxiety and stress.

That's where cuddly puppies from a New York City company come in.

In an effort to provide comfort to students, they were brought to the Academic Success Center at the J. Eugene Smith Library shortly after the start of this semester, which was Aug. 26.

" It just felt so nice and relaxing," freshman Lauren Grundwalski of Plainfield said after playing with the dogs.

The program was held for a few hours Monday.

The puppies come from puppyparty.com, a New York City- based company that puts on parties for kids and adults with dogs as well as facilitating adoptions with dogs they use.

ECSU Director of University Relations Ed Osborn said there have been pet therapy programs at Eastern in the past, such as for exam week.

He said there are plans to have another program in the fall or the spring, either with adult therapy dogs or puppies.

Osborn said Eastern is looking to possibly get the puppies from a local place next time.

" It might be less expensive," he said. According to the 2021 Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement, 53 percent of college students have experienced a substantial increase in emotional and mental exhaustion due to the pandemic.

"Anxiety levels have been quite high," ECSU Provost William Salka said in a press release from Eastern.

"Many students and faculty are returning to on-ground classes for the first time in more than a year. We expect our students will continue to