By Mackenzie Patterson
The therapy dog program at Ryerson has been offering a warm furry cuddle for three years now. After a strong start in 2013, the program is still a popular way to de-stress from demanding school schedules and course work and is widely used by students and faculty alike.
Bronwyn Dickson, the Ryerson counsellor who heads the program, said that the number of students using this service to de-stress continues to rise.
“We see about 60 to 100 students and faculty members show up at the sessions. It’s been a very well-used program,” she said.
The program was first created to help students increase their overall mental well being.
“Showing up and spending time interacting with the dogs can really help with the stress of school and even with everything happening outside of school,” Dickson said.
Natalie Ein, a Ryerson graduate student studying the effects animals have on humans’ mental wellbeing, said that one of the main reasons spending time with dogs can be so beneficial is because they aren’t critical.
“Dogs really create a non-judgmental atmosphere,” she said “They give you the gift of unconditional love.”
The first year away from home can be tough for some students, Ein explained, so being able to spend time with the dogs is comforting. “Sometimes, when you’re at school, you might miss the pet you have at home. So being with the dogs just brings comfort and happiness. It’s overall very helpful,” she said.
While spending time with friends and family members can help alleviate stress, Ein said that hanging out with animals is especially uplifting. “Research shows that your stress responses go down even more when you’re around animals than they do when you’re with another human.”
And it’s not just dogs that can have this positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Ein said cats, horses and even dolphins can have the same effect on people’s stress hormones as canines.
In fact, this is one of the criticisms of the program. Courtney Fitzpatrick, a fourth-year RTA student, said that Ryerson shouldn’t discriminate against other animals that could have a positive influence on students’ wellbeing.
“Open it up to more animals! Kitties, rabbits, deer. Keep anxiety down with the force of variety,” she said.
The five therapy dogs are available for cuddles to help you de-stress every Monday from 11:30am to 12:30pm in the lower gym.