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Therapy dog, Mac, plans a well-deserved retirement

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On-campus therapy dog Mac will be retiring from his position with PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society) later this month in order to reduce his work pace as he ages and devote his time to UFV. Mac has worked his entire career at UFV and will be turning 15 soon.

Mac will be continuing his counselling and PAWS for a Break work with students. His handler and UFV counsellor Dawn Holt said it’s important for him to keep him working part-time here at the university to maintain his excellent physical and mental health.

“He loves, loves, loves his job,” Holt said. “If you talk to anybody in this hallway, every morning they see Mac running down the hallway and into Student Services and around the corner to our office. He loves to come to work. Yeah, he actually runs to get into the office. How many of us can say that?”

Mac and Holt started counselling at UFV in 2006 and have been here ever since. He was the first assistance dog in the world to work full-time with a clinical counsellor in a post-secondary institution, right here at UFV.

Mac was born into the PADS program and from puppyhood was raised to be a therapy dog, but is taken care of by Holt. PADS has maintained ownership over Mac for the duration of his working life and when he swaps his public access vest for a UFV T-shirt this month, he will become Holt’s personal pet.

Throughout their time here, they’ve interacted with thousands and worked with hundreds of students. Holt said Mac remembers every single person he’s worked with.

“When they come in, regardless of how long it’s been since he’s seen them, he takes up whatever position he always did with them,” Holt said.

Holt said that although you can train assistance dogs, they must also have a certain personal quality to be successful.

“Service dogs are trained but therapy dogs are born. They have to have this innate sense of empathy, and they have to be able to make each person that they interact with feel like they really care about them and that they have unconditional regard for them, no matter what state the student is in. I can train his obedience and his commands, but that intuitiveness and that empathy and that ability to make students feel grounded again, he just has it.”

The relationship between students and Mac is reciprocal: he helps students and in turn Mac stays happy and healthy. Holt attributes Mac’s A-plus health rating to good breeding, staying healthy (Mac swims once a week at an exclusive, dog-only pool in Aldergrove), and all the love he gets from students.

Mac has even helped to save lives, having gone to the ER with students who were actively suicidal and who wouldn’t go without him. Holt said many studies have shown the positive physical and physiological effects of therapy animals on people.

“There’s something about that presence when you hold on to an animal, it increases the ‘happiness’ hormone oxytocin, and reduces the amount of adrenaline and cortisol in your system,” Holt said. “[Having] an unconditional positive regard from a friendly animal who’s calm actually physically reduces stress levels. You can see blood pressure reduced, you can see breathing levels reduced.”

Anyone wanting more of Mac in their lives can book an appointment with him and Holt through Student Services or follow his Instagram and Facebook to keep up with his weekly wellness posts. He will also still be doing his PAWS for a Break sessions on Tuesday afternoon in the Peer Resource and Leadership Centre from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

Mac will be having his retirement/birthday party on Tuesday, March 5 from 122 p.m. in the Envision Athletic Centre lobby (E building). Many PADS puppies will be coming out to celebrate and everyone at UFV is welcome to stop by, say happy birthday, give him a hug and a scratch on the nose, and tell him that he’s the goodest boy.

Image: Dawn Holt

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