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Dog therapy

Duster shakes his owner's hand at Pause for Paws at Bannatyne Campus. Duster has made over 300 visits to schools and hospitals as a St. John's Ambulance Therapy Dog. // Photo by Garrick Kozier.

Throwing students a bone

Therapy Dogs take over Bannatyne Campus and aim to de-stress exam-writing students

April 9, 2015 — 

In a dog-eat-dog world, the U of M Student Affairs’ Health & Wellness Department threw students a bone this week by inviting a group of fluffy and friendly therapy dogs during exam week for Pause for Paws at Bannatyne Campus.

It goes without saying exams are a stressful and busy period for students, trying to cram every last ounce worth of material into their brain before test time. In an attempt to alleviate a bit of that stress, the Health & Wellness Department, in collaboration with St. John’s Ambulance Pet Therapy Program, first organized pet therapy for U of M students in the spring of 2013.

This week, the dogs spent two days at both Bannatyne and Fort Garry campuses.

On the periphery, it’s a simple concept: the dogs (alongside their owners) set-up in Buhler Atrium and await visits from students and staff. There, people pet the dogs and spend time with them. Sounds like a great way to spend a lunch hour.

You might be surprised, however, with the wonders petting a dog can do for a stressed mind.

“Pet therapy is proven to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, lower blood pressure,” says Katie Kutryk, Student Services’ Health & Wellness Coordinator. Kutryk organizes Pause for Paws and says the demand for it increases with each visit. “We get so much wonderful feedback from the event and that’s why we keep bringing it back for students and staff as well.”

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Kerri Chase (right), Recreation Coordinator at Joe Doupe Centre, spends time with a therapy dog at Bannatyne Campus.

The dogs go through a testing process before they’re accepted into the St. John’s Ambulance program. This includes ensuring basic obedience and proper temperament.

One of the dogs to visit Bannatyne Campus this week was Duster, a pure bred Golden Retriever. Duster has made over 300 visits through the St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog program to different schools, hospitals, care homes, events and businesses.

Judy Lister, Duster’s owner, says that she and her dogs (she also has another, Maxie, involved in the program) thoroughly enjoy brightening up people’s day anyway they can.

“It’s been very gratifying for us. I really do enjoy it and I know they do as well. Whenever we leave a visit, people ask if we can stay longer and beg us not to leave,” chuckles Lister.

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