When college stress gets too intense, nothing beats a furry friend to lean on. Soon the students at Rowan University will have canine comfort whenever they need it.
South Jersey businessman and animal lover Gerald Shreiber, president and CEO of J&J Snack Foods Corp. of Pennsauken, has committed $3 million to create an animal therapy program on the Gloucester County campus.
Shreiber’s gift, announced this week, will establish an endowment for a self-sustaining program that will make certified therapy dogs regular fixtures in several student-support efforts at the Glassboro-based university.
“It is a pleasure for me to give back to the community," Shreiber said. “I can think of nothing better than [the experience of] our young students striving for education, complemented by therapy dogs.”
Starting in September, the Shreiber Family Pet Therapy Program of Rowan University will have a permanent 744-square-foot home at the school’s Wellness Center, according to David Rubenstein, the school’s vice president for health and wellness.
Five certified therapy dogs will be at the center five days a week to support students in need, assist in mental-health efforts, participate in special events, and help in programs that aid students with autism spectrum disorder, veterans, and other populations. The program will have a full-time coordinator.
“A dog therapy program will enhance the general health and well-being of Rowan students and address emerging experiences of stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety,” Rubenstein said.
Studies have shown that spending time with animals, as in dog therapy programs, can lower blood pressure, lessen depression and anxiety, decrease feelings of isolation, and encourage communication. Some research has suggested it prompts the release of oxytocin, leading to increased feelings of well-being. Petting animals has also being shown to produce feelings of relaxation.
In recent years, Rowan has offered “Paws for a Break,” a once-a-month program with therapy dogs. It’s proved to be a highly popular initiative, said Rubenstein.
“This gift will ensure our continued ability to deliver resources to enhance the health and well-being of our students and the entire Rowan community,” said Rowan president Ali A. Houshmand.
Shreiber, born in Bridgeton, N.J., and raised in Atlantic City, bought a bankrupt pretzel company in 1971 and turned it into J&J Snack Foods. The company now has more than 4,000 employees and over $1 billion in annual sales with brands such as Superpretzel, Icee, Luigi’s, and Minute Maid.
A philanthropist, he created a Rowan scholarship fund for students majoring in entrepreneurship. He also started SAFE (Shreiber Animal Foundation Enterprise), which helped establish a pet therapy program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and contributed to a pet therapy program at Virtua.