By Alyx Douglas Perth’s most needing cats and dogs are today purring and pouncing their way into the laps of university students as the University of Western Australia (UWA) works to reduce stress levels on campus.The De-Stress with UWA’s People for Animal Welfare event saw rescue cats and dogs from around Perth brought to UWA’s Crawley campus where students had the opportunity to sit, pat and play with a number of furry friends. Murdoch University Professor of Psychology, Peter Drummond, believes events offering students a chance to relax and de-stress are important for student health at university campuses. “Rates of depression and anxiety are higher in university students than in the general community, so I think anything that brings attention to this is a good idea,” said Professor Drummond. Research into the effects of stress have concluded that extended periods of stress and anxiety can have detrimental effects on the human body, with some symptoms including increased blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, depression and a suppressed immune system. The idea of allowing students to interact with cats and dogs was welcomed by Professor Drummond, as he explained how the contact between humans and animals creates an involuntary reaction known as an ‘empathetic response’. “It’s the feeling of warmth or closeness or bonding with another person or animal. You feel calmer and part of an accepted group and you feel protected. That has a de-stressing effect,” he said. Yasmine Hooper, a psychology student at UWA, believes events targeted at reducing the overall stress of students are necessary because they bring students back to the other important aspects of life. “It kind of means that I can be a human being today, I can factor in something nice for myself. It made it a lot easier to get out of bed this morning,” said Ms Hooper. After having spent an hour at the event surrounded by and sat on by dogs and cats, Ms Hooper explained how relaxed and calm she was feeling prior to her upcoming university assessment. “I feel good. Having events like this at Uni is nice, it’s kind of encouraging that the university want to look after us, as much as they put us through hell,” she said.