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Puppy room moves from myth to reality

Pet therapy is used for reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure, improving recovery from heart disease and providing an all-around boost in mental wellbeing. Programs like Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) and St. John Ambulance (SJA) provide pet therapy for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and schools all over Canada.

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By Melissa Spady (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: March 27, 2013

Last fall, UFV students were filled with jealousy when an article about Dalhousie University in Halifax made the rounds on social media. The buzz? The DSU (Dalhousie Student Union) set up a three-day event where, for a few hours, students could take a break from stress and study with a friendly visit from a certified pet therapy dog.

The dogs were on campus for three days, specifically scheduled to help students cope with end of the semester projects and the beginning of exams.

Those who attended the events said it helped ease the pain of being away from family pets and provided a fluffy distraction from the end of term. Although McGill University and University of Ottawa have also brought therapy dogs to their campuses, Dalhousie was the first to garner nationwide attention from the media.

Pet therapy is used for reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure, improving recovery from heart disease and providing an all-around boost in mental wellbeing. Programs like Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) and St. John Ambulance (SJA) provide pet therapy for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and schools all over Canada.

Arts Advice Centre assistant Charline Derksen has worked with the St. John Ambulance pet therapy program for the last three years. Her Rhodesian Ridgeback, Shelby, is a certified therapy dog.

“They do a very, very rigorous testing of your dog,” she says, “They put the dog in very stressful situations, people yelling and screaming … the worst scenario they can encounter.”

The dogs must be able to remain calm when faced with other dogs or other excitable situations.

“They also [have] to see that you had control over your dog,” Derksen explains: handlers have to be able to “make them do turns, make them sit, and have them be relaxed and not jump up and bark.”

After the dogs are certified, evaluations are held to ensure the handler and dog are comfortable in visiting situations.

Handlers are able to choose a facility they would like to visit or can be assigned one that has requested canine company.

“The residents really get a lot out of it. You can tell,” Derksen says. “A lot of the people there have had strokes. They’ve been altered mentally. They have Alzheimer’s or dementia, and you can see their glum faces. Then, as soon as they see the dog, people will be trying to wheel over to you.”

But why dogs? To Derksen, the answer is simple.

“They love unconditionally,” she says with a smile.

After seeing the article everywhere and hearing the laments of the pet-starved UFV community, SUS clubs and associations rep Zack Soderstrom wondered what it would take to bring a puppy room to UFV.

Weeks later, the planning and plotting has been done and it’s finally official: UFV students will be getting their very own puppy room this coming exam period. Students who have been poring over final assignments and holding late night cram sessions will get a much needed break coming up in the next few weeks.

“It’s going to happen. We’ve booked a room,” Derksen says. “It will be the 17, 18 and 19 of April.”

Although time of day has not been set in stone yet, Soderstrom wants to get puppies for at least a few hours each day, with the possibility of stress balls to go along with it.

The puppy room will be open to everyone (students, faculty, and staff) at UFV and it will be free to everyone who attends. More information will be forthcoming from both SUS and the university.

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