Therapy rats help Southeast MO State student help others

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Aug 31, 2016 in Rat News | Subscribe


Earlier this year we told you about a Southeast Missouri State University student that had some rats living with her in her dorm room.

Jessica Strunk said they help her deal with her depression and anxiety, in turn helping her excel socially and academically throughout her school year.

“They have helped me stay focused,” Strunk said. “I’ve made a lot more friends and having them has helped boost me up to do a lot more.”

Strunk said the university approved her having her rats, and they stay with her in her dorm room as part of her therapy.

“It’s really calming,” she said. “It helps with the stress of school. It helps with the stress of talking to people and making friends. It just makes it easier with people, talking to people because they focus on the rats more.”

Strunk is a junior at Southeast now and still has her rats living with her in her new dorm room on campus. She said not only have the rats helped her but now they have given her the confidence to help others, as well.

“They give me the energy to go out and do all that and want to help other people,” Strunk said.

Strunk is the president for the Southeast Redhawks Health Educators organization now. This is a program driven by students that promotes ways to live a healthier, more well-rounded lifestyle in the campus community.

Strunk even provides one-on-one counseling sessions on a variety of health and wellness topics. She attributes her confidence and success in helping people through this organization to the emotional support her rats give her.

“Having the opening that they’re my emotional support animals, people get interested in that,” Strunk said. “I can kind of lead into I’m also president of this group if you want to check it out and if you want to join it. It started out with a small group anyway so me being there leading it with all the energy I have has really grown it a lot.”

We met up with Strunk in her dorm room where we were greeted by at least a half-dozen of her friends inside. She said talks about her therapy rats with all of her new friends.

“It’s really easy to talk about them because when the hear you have rats, they want to hear about them,” Strunk said.

Before she had her furry friends, Strunk said her life was a lot harder.

“I had a lot of problems,” she said. “I even had a hard time getting out of bed.”

While many people are comforted from common animals such as dogs and cats, Strunk gets her emotional support from her rats, Nala and Araali.

And she has recently learned that she is not alone.

“It’s like a struggle when you meet new people and you don’t really know what to say,” SEMO student Jenna Kirkbride said. “This can really help open yourself up.”

Kirkbride and Strunk became friends last year. They initially opened up their first conversation by talking about Strunk’s rats. Unknown at the time for Strunk, Kirkbride said she had the exact same scenario as her pet rats helped her out, as well.

“One of the first things she said was ‘I have a pet rat.’ I was like really? I did too!” Kirkbride said.

Now her friends come by all the time into her room to see Strunk and her rats. They even hold them and pet them as they now have become a widespread source of relief for students on her floor.

“I want a rat maybe someday,” Southeast student Osha Patton said. “Everyone, for the most part, likes them.”

Dr. Sean Byrd at the Skyview Animal Clinic in Cape Girardeau said he wasn’t surprised about rats being a pet, but hasn’t heard of a rat to help someone this much before.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard about it to this degree,” Dr. Byrd said. “I’ve definitely seen the benefits of a rat as a pet but nothing to this degree. I think it’s awesome.”

Dr. Byrd said they actually see quite a few rats as pets come in their clinic, and that number has increased over the years.

“To them it’s just as much of a family member as a cat or a dog,” Byrd said.

As for Strunk, she said she will keep on going through school with growing confidence and will let the rats out to crawl on her as she studies for her classes.

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