Aarin Kang, 21, a fourth year public health major, kisses Nigle, a 5-year-old poodle mix at UC Irvine Tuesday. "It kind of makes you forget you have finals," Kang said. (Lauren Williams, Daily Pilot / March 12, 2013)

Puppy love struck UC Irvine on Tuesday as dozens of students doled out tummy rubs, receiving a few licks in return.

Therapy dogs and their owners visited the university as part of a program aimed at relieving stress and jitters during final exam time.

Scott Alburn, a first-year biology student, was happy to see Molly, a 6-year-old golden retriever who bears a resemblance to his own pooch in Visalia.

"She acts the same way" too, Alburn said.

Alburn made his way to the more than half a dozen dogs during a respite between demanding exams.

"I wanted a break from studying," Alburn said.

Nearby, Sebastian, a 2-year-old boxer-Labrador mix, sat with his owner, Sasha Carranza. Carranza takes Sebastian to Community Hospital in Long Beach and Southern California schools where students struggling with reading can read aloud to him as part of the BARK program, or Beach Animals Reading with Kids.

Gracie, a 13-year-old English setter, visits libraries from San Juan Capistrano to Costa Mesa. On Tuesday she lay near the feet of her owner, Penny Chase, outside UCI's Gateway Study Center.

Both Sebastian and Gracie have participated in the BARK program for at least five years.

Gracie's involvement is a no-brainer for Chase.

"Oh, she loves it," Chase said. "Are you kidding me? She gets attention. She gets out everyday. I mean look at her. She's getting entertainment."

The rescue and former show dog specializes in drawing out kids who are trying to develop confidence and may be shyer than their classmates, Chase said.

Minerva Escobar, a first-year psychology student, petted Gracie's spotted coat. "You can't be stressed around dogs, and it's just something nice to do in the day," Escobar said.

UCI's Active Minds mental health group sponsored the event, which was geared not only toward relieving stress but also connecting students with counseling programs on campus, said co-President Celina Gore.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30