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All paws on deck for mental health

The AC Hub held its latest edition of Paws 4 Stress March 13, a biweekly social event geared toward reducing stress and increasing morale among Algonquin’s students.

Created five years ago by animal lover and student support services director Shelly Styles, it started as a way to relieve exam-related anxiety. The function, which brings together students, certified pet-therapy dogs and their owners, happens for two hours every two weeks.

Dan Cuddy, the AC Hub’s student engagement information and outreach liaison, co-ordinates with St. John Ambulance’s therapy-dog program along with Therapeutic Paws of Canada to bring certified dogs to the college. According to Cuddy, the decision to make it a regular event came after he received a flood of positive responses.

“As they come out of the room, they’ll look at us and say, ‘This was really great, thank you. I really needed this.’ We have a student who said to us, ‘I have an exam tonight that’s three hours long. I need to relax now before I go into that.’ So to me, that’s a measure that it works.” said Cuddy.

One thing Cuddy was not expecting however, was the effect it would have not only stressed students but homesick ones as well. Isabella Schaumburg, a business student, knows this all too well.

“I haven’t seen my dog in a while because I’m an international student, so I thought this was a great opportunity to see some. It lets you relax; connect with the dogs and makes you think about something else, which is nice,” she said.

During the event, Schaumburg met Christine Phillips, a volunteer and firm believer in the unconventional treatment. She, along with her dog Caleigh, have been volunteering with St. John Ambulance’s pet-therapy program for about two years.

“There’s just amazingly awesome outcomes I read about with dogs and people that are suffering mental health issues and stress. I took an early retirement and thought, well that’s a way that I can continue to contribute: get out, meet nice people and bond with my dog. There’s just no downside to it.”

Is it true? Could pet therapy be a better, more effective way to manage stress and mental health? When asked for her thoughts on the matter, Schaumburg says she enjoys the program, but suggests making a small adjustment:

“I think dogs are great here but maybe add cats — or rabbits! That could be really nice!”

LISTEN to an audio version of this story below.

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