By Lauren Khalil

Merlin does a trick for Nancy Trus at the college in the Students Commons, room 206. He’s a therapeutic dog at Therapeutic Paws of Canada.

For the second year in a row, the college’s Student Support Services sought to alleviate student stress with some puppy love on Jan. 27 and Jan. 29.

Merlin, the Australian shepherd, golden retriever and “Humane Society special,” as his owner, Nancy Trus, likes to call him, greeted students in a small room on the second floor of the Commons during the Wednesday visit.

This is certainly not the first time dogs have been used for therapeutic purposes.  The Canadian Armed Forces has been using specially trained therapy dogs to deal with PTSD.  Students lined up outside the door of E206 to spend a few minutes petting Merlin and receiving kisses in return.  Trus volunteers for Therapeutic Paws of Canada, where “dogs that love to be loved” provide human aid as therapeutic dogs.

“He was born to do this,” she said.

Trus explained the health benefits dogs can have for humans, which includes lowering blood pressure.  She further discussed the programmed human companionship with dogs, mentioning that two co-evolved.

“Dogs have been our companions for hundreds of years.  We seem to bond with them,” Trus said.

This historical connection is what provides support for animal-assisted therapy.

As students came into the room in groups of five, they asked questions about Merlin and exchanged stories about their own pets at home.  Time seemed to pass quickly for students before it was time for the next group.

“I feel stress free, I feel happy,” Charmaine Fleguel, a construction-engineering student said as she left the room.

Laura Verzijlenberg, veterinarian technician student, 27, organized the event as a student volunteer for a co-curricular record opportunity with SSS.

“There’s a lot of research that shows human animal bonding for psychological values. Bringing that to the students was important so I thought it was a good program,” Verzijlenberg said.

Student Success Specialist, Dan Cuddy initiated the initial visits to Algonquin last year.

“This event gives students the opportunity to de-stress and have a little fun.  The dogs and cats bring smiles to people’s faces—it’s really great to see,” Cuddy said.

Eight-year-old Merlin has been part of the program for seven years.  He has passed evaluations to work with seniors and children.

Monday was slow, but Wednesday was a resounding success, seeing a steady stream of students throughout the hour.