RICHMOND, Va. — The director of a Virginia animal shelter that has received more than 400 applications for puppy cuddle sessions hopes the concept will spread to other facilities across the country to give people an outlet for “pain, worry and sadness”.

“We have this beautiful litter of Pyrenees puppies,” said Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) director Christie Chipps-Peters. “And when they were given to us, all the staff were like hugging them and kissing them and thinking about how good they made us feel. They are like little bunny angels puffed up with goodness.

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Puppy cuddle sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control on Sunday, April 3, 2022.

Peters said the shelter wants to pass on that good feeling to others.

“The world is a little tough right now. We are coming out of two years of COVID, there is a war, all kinds of social unrest,” she said. “It might be great to give other people outside of our world here some of that goodness.”

The shelter posted on Facebook early in the morning of Friday, April 1, offering puppy cuddle sessions. Peters was overwhelmed by the response.

“I’ve had over 400 emails – and we don’t have many puppies,” Peters said. “So I had the daunting task of going through them all and selecting the 52 people who came today.”

Christie Chipps-Peters, Richmond Animal Care and Control Manager

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Christie Chipps-Peters, Richmond Animal Care and Control Manager

How People Were Chosen for Puppy Cuddle Sessions

Peters said she prioritizes emails in the order in which they were received. First responders and medical professionals as well as people “who have recently lost a loved one/suffering from a broken heart/depression/anxiety” topped the list.

“We had people just saying, ‘I want my kids to come pet a puppy,'” Peters explained. “While we had others saying, ‘My daughter was murdered and I’m struggling. “”

Peters said those most in need were given priority, but she admitted it was a difficult process that left her in tears.

She said shelter workers are so often so focused on the animals that they “sometimes get stuck in this tunnel.”

Still, Peters said reading the nominations was cathartic.

“If you have something wrong with you and think your day is bad, there’s always been someone who had a worse day than you,” Peters said. “So perspective is an interesting thing.”

Peters hoped the experience would lift people’s spirits.

“There’s so much pain and worry and sadness right now that people are feeling that sometimes they don’t have an outlet for,” Peters said. “So we were very surprised to be inundated with so many people saying to themselves, ‘I would love nothing more than to sit in a room with a fluffy puppy for everything to get better. ‘»

Puppy Cuddle Sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control

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Puppy cuddle sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control on Sunday, April 3, 2022.

Dogs remind us how to be present, says woman

Petra, a pediatric psychiatric nurse, and her father, a retired FBI agent who flew in from Fairfax for the session, said she jumped at the chance to ‘fill her emotional cup with self-care. stroking puppies”.

“When I saw that Richmond Animal Care and Control had the opportunity to get free pet therapy, I wrote the email as fast as I could,” she recalls.

Petra said animals, like the Pyrenean puppies she cuddled and played with, can reduce stress levels.

“It has been shown that petting animals and being close to them [can] reduce stress hormone chemicals and things that you have in your body. VCU actually has guard dogs that they take to see patients and healthcare workers,” she said. “There are like scientific studies that have shown the benefits of pet therapy for people, so it’s just a wonderful thing.

PHOTO GALLERY: Puppy Cuddle Sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control

The nurse admitted that her job can be stressful. She said it’s crucial to be aware of your stress levels.

“It’s really good to look at yourself and say, ‘How am I coping with the stress of my daily life. Have I really taken the time to calm down?'” she said. “Because [of] The internet and the information age we find ourselves in, it’s so easy to get carried away and keep moving forward and forward.”

As a result, she said it’s important to “watch carefully” how much time you spend on social media.

“There’s this false sense of authenticity that I feel like video and photography and images create, and the content just doesn’t really reflect what people go through on a day-to-day basis,” he said. she stated. “Even adults struggle with it, but with kids whose brains aren’t fully developed yet, they consume so much stuff.”

Her father said it is essential to take care of her mental and physical health.

“I really think fitness goes a long way in improving your mental health,” he said. “During a 20-year career in the FBI, you encounter a lot of stressful things. And that’s one of the most important things they’ve always said…fitness goes a long way.”

Petra said the puppies were not only wonderful for relieving stress, but also beneficial for mindfulness.

“The great thing about dogs is that they just show you how to exist in the moments in between. And I feel like they’re such a good role model for showing that every day n It doesn’t have to be special or uplifting to be peaceful,” explained Petra. “Dogs are a great way to remind us how to come back to the present moment.”

Puppy Cuddle Sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control

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Tiffany Lord cradles a puppy at Richmond Animal Care and Control on Sunday April 3, 2022.

Woman: “It’s a good thing to do for everyone”

Tiffany Lord, another nurse, said she saw the post on social media, so she signed up to “have sex” after a “difficult few years”.

“It’s great that they’re offering it. They should think about it regularly,” Lord said. “Everyone should be lucky enough to be loved by these puppies.”

Lord said the session with the puppy was different from cuddling with his Siberian Husky at home because the puppies had “a little more energy and a little more courage to them.”

The nurse said she believes ‘lovable, non-judgmental’ puppies can lower blood pressure, make you smile and ‘make everything feel a little OK’.

“These puppies are all about rainbows, sunshine and happiness…How can you not think that’s good? How can that not be relaxing?” Lord said.

Because life can be so busy and fast-paced, Lord said it was crucial to “spend some time and relax and cuddle up”.

She was grateful for her 30 minute session and hopes it continues.

“I’m grateful they did this…and I hope they do it again,” Lord said. “Because I think it’s a good thing for everyone to do, and I’m grateful that we were chosen.”

Puppy Cuddle Sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control

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Puppy cuddle sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control on Sunday, April 3, 2022.

Shelter manager: “When they leave, they’re a little brighter and a little happier”

Peters said it was a joy to allow people “to sit in a room with a fluffy pup so that everything just got better.” And she thinks the puppies’ healing powers definitely worked.

“We’ve had a few people who, the minute they see them, start crying. We’ve had people lying on the floor and hugging them and sobbing… letting out whatever they’ve been hiding for as long as they’ve been hiding it,” Peters said, “And when they leave they’re a little more bright and a little happier and a little lighter. And so, we achieved our goal.

Peters said the puppies provide a judgment-free zone.

“I think we love animals because there’s absolutely no judgment,” Peters said. “Love is so powerful because there are no words. Sometimes just feeling and being, we forget to do that. And I think animals remind us that the world is good, kind and happy – and that we can focus on that. Something about a fluffy, warm, restless pup makes every day better. And that’s one-sided.

Puppy Cuddle Sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control

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Puppy cuddle sessions at Richmond Animal Care and Control on Sunday, April 3, 2022.

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And thanks to the success of the event, the shelter intends to do it again.

“We have puppies all the time, and I think for the right litter that’s laid back and chill and easygoing, definitely,” Peters said. “I think there is a huge need there. We didn’t understand the huge number of people saying, “Yes, please, I need help.” My heart is hurting me. Fill it with puppy love.

Peters also hopes other shelters will adopt the idea.

“Hopefully it’s something that spreads,” Peters said. “I hope other shelters across the country will steal the idea. Imagine what a wonderful place that would be – every weekend someone could go hug a puppy somewhere. I think it’s beautiful.