AUSTIN, Texas — Researchers say depression and anxiety rates have significantly increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. One group is ready to provide much needed stress relief for Central Texans.

Deb Welsh and her certified therapy dog Finnley are part of the Pet Partners group of Sun City, an animal-assisted therapy team. The pandemic kept the team from volunteering for quite a while, but now they are back helping Central Texans. 

"Before COVID we were working two days a week," explained Welsh.

The retired psychotherapist says they have seen an increase in the need for their help. Welsh and Finnley recently provided stress relief at A&M-Central Texas. 

"When we were not volunteering with COVID, he [Finnley] was very depressed because he wasn't able to go out very much," Welsh shared. 

Finnley is not the only one. Dr. Sam Fiala, chair of A&M-Central Texas' Counseling and Psychology department, says the pandemic has contributed to a global rise in stress. It makes what the Pet Partners do even more important.

"We're obviously having these events saying 'Hey therapy animals are important and they can be effective in helping reduce stress.' It acknowledges that stress is something we're all feeling and if you're feeling it you're not alone," Fiala said.