College Settles with Woman Denied Comfort Guinea Pig

4257331059_a2d5f0bd2b_qKendra Velzen received $40,000 from Grand Valley State University because her school refused to let her carry her pet guinea pig everywhere on campus.  The 28-year-oldVelzen suffers from depression and uses a pacemaker. Grand Valley State let her keep her pet in the dorm, but barred it from some places including the cafeteria.

I blogged about Velzen's case when she first brought it. Those of us who depend on pets for comfort tend to be on her side; other people think it's ridiculous or even offensive to have animals around.

The story was picked up by Gawker, a site dedicated to snark. So it's not surprising that it and the comments are pretty mean.

Whether you choose to read the original news article or Gawker could say something about whether you like to be kind or not. Think about it.



Revolt Brewing Over Pets in Dorms?

539325280_ba106b6568_mI was miserably lonely in college and sneaked a puppy into my dorm the spring of sophomore year. (That dog stayed with me until she died 14 years later.) So I can relate to Kendra Velzen, who is suing her college for telling her to get rid of her guinea pig.*

According to Courthouse News Service,

   "The presence of an emotional support animal provides Ms. Velzen with continued emotional support and attachment (thereby reducing symptoms of depression), physiological benefits (such as decreased heart rate), and psychological benefits (such as increased Oxytocin levels, which directly impact the sense of life satisfaction)," the complaint states.
     Velzen says the college allows physically impaired students to keep service dogs and nonpredatory fish in their dorm rooms.

This is the second such case to be in the news this year. See also, Dogs in Dorms an Antidote to Stress?

For some of us, pets can provide a substitute source of connection and oxytocin. For other people (like me) a pet can be the first living being we really connect with. It can be downright cruel to prohibit them at school.

*PS My first furry pets were guinea pigs -- my parents wouldn't let me have a dog.

PPS Guinea pigs are adorable and make great pets; some people eat them.

PHOTO: joffreylacoeur

Do Dogs Need to Inhale Oxytocin?

When I was a kid, dogs were happy bundles of love. Today, at least in Berkeley, a lot of them are grouchy, neurotic and fearful. Monash University's Animal Welfare Science Centre will study whether inhalilng oxytocin can make shelter dogs more adoptable.

When I researched my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I found strong evidence that the oxytocin response is shaped by early postnatal experience. I don't see why this would not be the case with dogs, as well. If a puppy doesn't get lots of love and attention from its human caretaker after it's separated from its dog mother, it may not learn to bond well with humans.

While some dogs at a shelter have a strong drive to connect with the humans to visit, coming to the bars and wagging their tales, others cower in the back or bark defensively. Not surprisingly, these are the dogs most likely to be put down after a few days.

Researcher Jessica Oliva will start a trial of 80 shelter dogs to see whether having a dog inhale oxytocin as it leaves the shelter with its new owner can increase the likelihood they will bond -- and decrease the likelihood of the dog being returned.

While I advocate that humans take the time to rebuild a healthy oxytocin response naturally, these dogs don't have that much time.

I might advocate that the adopting humans in the study also get a snort of oxytocin.

Romantic Movies Warm You Up

A  study found that people who drank cold tea were more likely to choose a romantic movie than those who quaffed hot tea.

Researchers Jiewen Hong (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) and Yacheng Sun (University of Colorado, Boulder) also analyzed movie rental data from an unnamed online movie rental company to back up the findings.

They hypothesize that a physical chill causes us to crave psychological warmth. But let's not forget that the body and mind are connected.

Part of oxytocin's phsyical effects are increasing relaxation and blood flow, which would physically warm you up as the romantic movie causes your brain to release oxytocin.


Dogs in Dorms an Antidote to Stress?

Research shows that dogs make us healthier and happier. Should college dorms allow them?Rebecca McGoldrick @BrownUniversity thinks universities should create policies that allow for dogs in dorms.

McGoldrick writes,

... a casual conversation with my peers leads me to believe that many of us lack our greatest companion for years while earning a college degree. And science is showing that this interspecies relationship has more health implications than we might imagine.

She suggests policies could allow students to bring dogs from home, or they could participate in a fostering program with the local shelter or animal rescue organization.

As someone who sneaked a puppy into her dorm spring semester of her sophomore year -- and switched schools rather than give up the dog -- I'm all for it.




Huggies Promotes Oxytocin

This is brilliant marketing that also serves the social good. Think about it: Diapers, babies, hugs and mommies. It's a natural fit.

Oh! In fact, that's the name of the product. Huggies Natural Fit is working with parenting expert Dr. Carol Cooper to to help parents further understand the importance of cuddling and the actual cuddle hormone, oxytocin.

Huggies released a survey which found that two thirds of new mothers were unaware of the importance of oxytocin in bonding with their babies. The good news is that more than half strongly believe that cuddling is important for creating a stronger bond.

Oh, wait a minute. That figure is 55 percent. Only 55 percent of mothers know it's important to cuddle their babies? Eek! I hope Huggies can help.

Support for Grieving Pet Owners

What animal lovers know: Losing a pet can be like losing a member of the family.

For example, a cat that comes into a young family may still be there when the kids go off to college.

In addition, "It could be that animals bring out untapped resources in ourselves that we don't use as much as when we are spending time solely with most humans. These are resources are essential to our overall well-being and bring us to our core," writes Lorrie Shaw of in this thoughtful article that discusses the oxytocin bond we share with pets, as well as the trend of pet loss support groups.

For people who don't have family or others they're close to, a pet may be the primary social relationship. Yet, when your cat or dog dies, many people can't understand why you're so broken up.

It's good to have groups of people who understand how deep this bond can go.


New Cuddle Drug: Meth

In Time, Maya Salavitz reports on a new study indicating that:

... at least in low, oral doses — the effects of methamphetamine may be much more like those of ecstasy than previously believed, increasing sociability and playfulness, and belying its bad name. What's more, the study finds that the empathetic behavior exhibited by ecstasy users may result from a reduced ability to read certain social cues, rather than any enhancement in sharing other people's feelings.

Okay, the MDMA part makes sense to me. Oxytocin (released by MDMA) calms my amygdala, making me less vigilant. So, I can relax. In fact, this seems to be what happened, according to the article:
"We found that the drug actually decreased the capacity to read negative emotion, specifically fear," says Bedi. Reducing the detection of fearful faces might increase "empathetic" behavior — even while reducing the ability to accurately read feelings — by making people more likely to get closer to strangers, rather than maintaining distance because of fear.

BTW: The researchers cautioned that dosage and safety were critical elements of this study. If you're huffing on the meth at home, you might not feel as huggy.

How to Get Oxytocin Right NOW

The Mike & Juliet Show was mostly an attack on Liquid Trust. The manufacturer refuses to say how much oxytocin is in the product, but it won't get into your body - or anyone else's -- if you spray it on your clothes or even skin.

There are plenty of ways to experience a natural oxytocin release without buying anything. In my book (The Chemistry of Connection, April 2009) I explain the oxytocin response, why we don't all have a healthy one, and talk about ways of building it up.

But all of us do have a hypothalamus and all of us do release oxytocin; without it, we'd die. To get the social benefits, try one or more of the following. If you can, set aside at least 15 minutes to do this and nothing else:

  • Cuddle
  • Sing in a choir
  • Hold a baby
  • Stroke a dog or cat
  • Perform a generous act
  • Pray
  • Make love
  • Have an orgasm (alone or with someone else)

Baby Love Training

This is one of the more unusual programs I've ever seen.  Aschool in Seattle is teaching kids empathy by bringing up baby into the classroom.  it's an anti-bullying program. The theory is even being around the baby, whether or not it's your own or you even know, it stimulates the release of oxytocin.  And oxytocin increases empathy, as many studies have now shown. So, if kids have more empathy, they'll be less likely to bully, the theory goes.

So, the idea is, these kids are exposed regularly to baby they release oxytocin feel kinder to each other and over time, this becomes a natural and automatic state of being.

Follow the links in this blog post to find out more about the program.

Maybe I'm a little over sensitive to the germ issue right now, thanks to everybody I know having been sick this winter, but I'm a little surprised they can find someone willing to bring a baby into their classroom.