An increase in the prevalence of stress among college students is compromising their mental health and academic success. One approach to stress prevention that has seen a surge in implementation is the use of university-based Animal Visitation Programs (AVPs). Despite their popularity and promising causal findings, program evaluations on students’ responsiveness (e.g., enjoyment, attendance, perceptions on usefulness and behavioral change) have yet to be conducted. Using a mixed methods approach, this study reports results of a program evaluation embedded in a randomized controlled trial examining the efficacy of incorporating various levels (0%, 50% or 100%) of Human Animal Interaction (HAI) into a four-week long university-based stress prevention program resulting in three conditions: (1) Evidence-based Academic Stress Management content only (0% HAI), (2) Human Animal Interaction with therapy dogs only (100% HAI) and (3) equal combinations of Academic Stress Management and HAI (50% HAI). Responsiveness (e.g., enjoyment, usefulness, recommendation and behavioral change) was assessed quantitatively and qualitatively using self-reported survey data collected immediately following the program and again six weeks later. The results suggest that combining evidence-based content presentations with HAI was associated with higher levels of enjoyment, perceived usefulness, and likelihood of recommendation compared to presenting content presentation or HAI alone, although doing so did not result in differences in perceived behavioral change by condition. Themes of students’ perceptions on the role of HAI in shaping program enjoyment, usefulness, recommendations and behavioral change were described.
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