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Ryerson students who have been camped out in the library or preparing for midterms got a break on Tuesday when a few furry friends visited campus.
Students lined up through the halls and stairways of the Victoria Building to pet an English setter named Kate and six other dogs. The therapy dogs were on hand to help students take their minds off their books, as part of Ryerson’s mental well-being week.
“She walks in the room, her tail is wagging and people’s faces light up,” said Kate’s owner and Ryerson counsellor Bronwyn Dickson. “It’s really hard to be really stressed out when you are there in the presence of an adorable dog.”
The dogs, which are known to alleviate stress, could be back on campus as early as November. She says the school is hoping to offer regular therapy sessions during Ryerson’s busy exam and midterm periods, Dickson said.
She said the Access Centre and security teamed up to bring the dogs to campus this week to help fight the stigma around these services.
“We thought we could all come together and be there as representatives at these events so students would meet us and (become) more likely to connect with us at their time of need,” she said.
Plus, these aren’t just any dogs being used.
Dickson said the certified therapy dogs from St. John Ambulance and Therapeutic Paws of Canada have been known to lower blood pressure, offer mental health benefits, reduce tension and trigger relaxation.
According to Access Centre manager Marc Emond, before a dog can become certified for therapy use it must undergo special behavioural training to teach dogs to get along with others and keep a calm temperament.
His Labrador mix named Keysha joined Kate at Ryerson and was eager to be petted and provide comfort to students.
“We’re stressed and it’s hard to pass up the oppotunity to pet a puppy,” said first-year psychology student Sam Snead, who cuddled up to Keysha. “You can’t be sad when you are petting a puppy.”
Ryerson isn’t the first school to go to the dogs.
Last year, so many students flocked to the University of Ottawa’s inaugural dog therapy event that the school turned the initiative into a weekly occurrence.
The university’s student academic success services director, Murray Sang, said the excitement hasn’t died down.
He said about 40 to 50 students are spending time with therapy dogs Sassy and Rusty Bear each week.
“Lots of students have been lining up to see the dogs every week,” he said. “They find it pleasant and relaxing.”
On the East Coast, Dalhousie University’s dog therapy sessions are also a hit.
In an email to The Ryersonian, Dalhousie Students’ Union (DSU) president Lindsay Dowling said, “Since our first DSU Puppy Days, not only have students told us how the dogs have helped them cope with stress, we have garnered enough support to begin creating a peer health department.”
Ryerson’s mental well-being week will also run events such as drop-in yoga, massage therapy and a tour of the Ryerson Image Centre until Oct. 25.