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Students at Rocky Mountain College found an antidote to stress on Tuesday.

Smack dab in the middle of finals week, a steady stream of students found their way into the Bair Family Student Center’s Fraley Lounge for a combination of massage and pet therapy.

Some of the students stretched out on massage tables, taking advantage of the free 15-minute sessions to get the tension worked out of their muscles. Still others plunked down on the floor to pet a variety of dogs that lapped up the attention.

The idea, said Jill Washburn, Rocky community service coordinator, is to help students find some relief from the tensions that come with cramming for finals or banging out one last paper.

“We don’t want students to feel completely stressed out while they’re trying to do finals, especially if this is their first time at college,” Washburn said, standing in the lounge. “We just want to help them relax and be able to make this a good experience and finish on a good note.”

Sunnie, an 11-year-old golden retriever, definitely enjoyed her job as a stress reliever. She seemed to smile as sophomore Caitlin Horton and junior Melinda Provencher stroked her soft, beige fur.

“And I’m getting puppy kisses,” said Provencher, a geology major from Duluth, Minn., as Sunnie licked her hand.

Provencher got two hours of sleep on Monday night, burning the midnight oil to complete a paper. Getting a doggy timeout gave her what she needed to keep going.

“It makes me forget that I actually need to be stressed out about doing my finals and actually try to pass,” she said. “And it’s nice.”

Horton, a biology major from Aroda, Va., said spending time with Sunnie helped her briefly forget about her Wednesday final, for which she needed to study.

“I have dogs at home, so then it’s like ‘OK, when I get through these exams, I can go pet my dogs,’” she said. “And then it reminds me to be less stressed out and to be a little more calm.”

Spending time with a dog offers many benefits, said Lyn Findley, Sunnie’s owner.

“There have been a lot of studies on how it can reduce your blood pressure, make you less stressed out and just give you a feeling of well-being,” said Findley, a member of Pet Partners.

The national organization, with more than 11,000 members in the United States, seeks to provide comfort in stressful situations.

“We go into the schools, or we were at the mall on Sunday for stress relief for the shoppers,” Findley said. “Santa was late that day, so we worked the Santa line.”

Other Pet Partners at Rocky on Tuesday included Tanya Vaught with Lucy Lu, an almost 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier; Jo Acton with Kelly, a 5-year-old Affenpinscher; and Sheila Rubel with Quigley, a 10-year-old Australian shepherd-border collie mix.

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Meanwhile, Amy Donlan, a licensed massage therapist with Serenity Massage, worked on a student who lay face down on a portable massage table.

“When the students are doing their finals, their bodies produce a stress hormone called cortisol,” Donlan said. “When you work on people’s central nervous system and their autonomic nervous system, it reduces the cortisol.”

A lot of the students also take part in athletics, Donlan said. Massage can help fix a lot of problems created from that physical stress.

At the next table, licensed massage therapist Shannon McDevitt said she can tell as she works on people where they hold their stress. She often finds it between the shoulder blades and at the top, in the trapezius muscles.

“We can help the students so they’re not focusing on their shoulder that hurts, they’re focusing on their finals,” McDevitt said. “And we can give them stretching advice and posture advice so they’re not studying in ways that hurt their bodies.”

Travis Ahmann, a sophomore business management major from Seattle, looked relaxed as he walked out of the lounge after getting his second massage in two days.

“It just kind of like wakes me up and gets me a lot more focused, more into studying,” Ahmann said.

He will be done with finals on Wednesday. Did he plan to get one last massage?

“I might,” he said, laughing.

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