Summer 2019
Gifts at Work


Therapy animals and their humans help students pet away worry and stress

“It’s hard to be stressed or anxious when you’re petting an animal,” says Tanya Bailey, who directs PAWS (Pet Away Worry and Stress), a program run through Boynton Health. PAWS has been bringing members of the University community together with specially trained animals and their humans since 2013. Last year, more than 11,000 students, faculty, and staff attended PAWS sessions at one of four locations on the Twin Cities campus. 

Photography by Steve Niedorf 


Karoline Wagner, ’18 B.S., recipient of the Betty L. and Sidney L. Brown and Shelley Brown Brundage Endowed Scholarship, struggled with health issues and found PAWS so supportive she helped start a student group, TAILS, to assist with it. “PAWS has become a family to me here,” she says.

Wagner discovered PAWS during her freshman year. That year, she met Seth, one of the volunteers, and Andy, his Rottweiler. “From my freshman year until I graduated in December, I went to PAWS several times a week,” she says. Even after she graduated, she kept in touch with many of the friends she made there, including Seth and Andy.    

Andy recently passed away, and Wagner was there, comforting him during his final hours. “Andy and Seth had done so much for me. To be there for Andy in those moments is something I’ll keep with me forever,” she says.

A portrait of Andy by artist Nicky Torkzedeh hangs in the Boynton Health building.


PAWS has 122 teams of animals and volunteer handlers, including Jennifer Smith and her rabbits. The program also features dogs, cats, chickens, miniature horses, and a guinea pig.   

The number of teams has grown from 41 in 2013-14.  Dogs make up the majority of animals participating.   

Clementine, an English Angora rabbit. Clementine and handler, Jennifer Smith, volunteer with the Bunny Besties, which also brings rabbits to an animal assisted therapy group at Boynton Health and works with homeless shelters, schools, and nursing homes.


Gifts from donors make up a significant part of PAWS’ budget. “They have been integral to the program’s development and expansion,” says Bailey, who handles Tilly, a Silkie chicken. Unlike programs at other schools that  bring in animals before exams, PAWS operates year round.   

Bailey has been doing research on the effects of PAWS. When asked in a survey how often, in the past month, they felt nervous or stressed, 70 percent of students said they felt their stress level was above average or high. More than 90 percent said they believed PAWS helped them manage their stress.   

Attila the Hen, better known as Tilly, is a PAWS favorite.


Cristaly Mercado, ’19 B.S., who held the Clarence and Erna O’Gordon Scholarship, started out coming to see the animals. She found the connections she made so valuable that she decided to get Franklin registered as a therapy cat. They now volunteer for PAWS.  

Franklin had a rough start in life. Mercado adopted him as a kitten from her girlfriend’s mother, who rescued him after he was thrown from a moving car. Mercado knew he was special by the way he took to people – even the vet. “When I got him, he immediately started cuddling with me,” she says.  

During the photo shoot, Franklin maintained eye contact with our photographer the entire time.


Tyler Fricke, ’19 B.A., a President’s Emerging Scholar and TAILS cofounder, worked with the U’s nursing student board to organize a 5K walk last spring to raise money for PAWS. Fricke has attended sessions regularly since 2017.   

Bailey, the one-eyed golden retriever, is one of 84 dogs participating in PAWS.