Therapy dogs help destress students at Sheridan

Sheridan College has an event to take away the stress of exam season—or at least distract students for a little while. The Sheridan Student Union is hosting the Paws Room at all Sheridan College campuses, bringing dogs from St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program to spend some quality time with stressed out students. 

Hank with students at a therapy dog session. Photo courtesy of Wanda Punga.

Wanda Punga and her seven-year-old French sheepdog, Hank, have been volunteering with the program since 2017. She says in that time, she has seen the happiness that Hank provides to students:

“I find that simply the sight of Hank at the at any of the various places that we volunteer seems to bring an immediate smile to people’s faces. They want to touch him, ask questions about him, and then tell me about their own experience with dogs. In a nutshell, it seems to take them out of their current stressful thoughts or environment and creates a safe, positive, relaxing experience.”

The implementation of therapy dogs on college campuses has had a positive impact on students’ well-being. Through surveys done before and after sessions with the therapy dogs at a Canadian university, researchers determined that students reported to be significantly less stressed after spending time with the pooches.

Before the Paws Room event at Sheridan’s Hazel McCallion Campus, students were eager to see the canines. Angela Rodriguez said that the Paws event is one that she’d been looking forward to for weeks:

“I went to last year’s dog therapy event and it was a really welcome distraction from the stress that’s common this time of year. Dogs never fail to put everyone in a good mood.”

Students are encouraged to touch, pet and cuddle the dogs to feel calmer and more comfortable.

Sheridan student Kam Crichlow­­­ feels volunteer dogs from St. John’s Ambulance are a welcome distraction from the unease that studying and exams bring:

“Even spending a few minutes with these dogs makes me feel so much lighter… so much happier. This event made me forget about all of the stress I had about schoolwork. I’m jealous that I don’t have a dog at home so I could feel this way all the time.”

Punga has noticed similar instances in the time she’s volunteered for the program, saying that students tend to get emotional around Hank when they think of their own animal at home—especially when they’re living away from their families:

“I find students want to get close to Hank and pet him.  They also want to share stories and pictures of their own dogs at home . . . that they miss. The interaction fills a need until they are able to see their own dog.”

Therapy dog testing happens twice a year to be sure that dogs are good citizens and calm around visitors.

The dogs coming from St. John’s Ambulance belong to and are trained by their owners. In order to participate in the therapy dog program, they must pass testing that ensures they are well behaved and friendly with humans as well as other dogs. The program started in 1992 and has only been getting bigger since then. The program is also provided throughout hospitals and retirement homes.

For more information on St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog program, click here.