Four-legged therapists


A star attraction in the first therapy dog event at Ryerson University. (Ryersonian file photo)

Furry four-legged pooches are coming back to campus Thursday.

Certified therapy dogs will be on site for students to pet and interact with in hopes of relieving some built-up stress. This is the fourth event hosted by the Access Centre, Ryerson security and the Counselling Centre since October of last year. Bronwyn Dickson, a counsellor at Ryerson and one of the main organizers of the event, says dogs help alleviate stress by reducing blood pressure and lowering heart rates. “The dogs that are there are very happy and excited and so that rubs off on the students,” says Dickson.

Luigi Alberga, a fourth-year business technology management student who attended the event last November, said, “It was like some of the stress just melted away and I found the strength and energy to complete some (school assignments) that day.”

Since the event lasts only for an hour and a half, Alberga says it makes it hard for students like him, who have class during that time, to be able to attend.

The dogs are recruited from St. John Ambulance, who set up the time restriction, says Dickson. She says this ensures that dogs don’t get overwhelmed since there can be upwards of 10 students per dog at a time.

In the first event in October, over 200 students were turned away because there wasn’t enough time for everyone to spend with the dogs.

“We ended up allowing 320 in the room and the rest (were) turned away. We don’t have full numbers … but our best count is that over 500 people showed up,” said Dickson.

To prevent this from happening again, Dickson says there will be eight dogs on site compared to six at the last event, and it will be held in a larger venue. She says the organizers plan to let students know ahead of time if they think they’ll need to turn people away. The long-term goal is to have weekly therapy dog events for students, says Dickson.

Yet since the event is run by volunteers and their dogs, she says there aren’t enough volunteers that can commit to coming every week. “It’s a work in progress,” she said.

In the meantime, Dickson says the Counselling Centre is starting its own weekly animal therapy sessions with her certified dog, Kate. This will only be available to students who are already receiving counselling from the centre starting March 10.

The therapy dogs event takes place Feb. 13 in the lower gymnasium in Kerr Hall West from 12-1:30 p.m.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Feburuary 12, 2014.


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