Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the AC Dog Squad was formed as a mental health resource for students and staff in need of a furry pick-me-up while participating in events or simply roaming the college halls.
Since the creation of the AC Dog Squad in 2019, they have recruited over 15 dogs that have received their certifications for both the assessment and training program.
“It was unheard of at the time to have this kind of initiative on campus,” said Tracy McDougall, director of the president’s office and communications, when the project was first introduced.
McDougall is a member of the AC Dog Squad with her dog Monte, a four-and-a-half-year-old golden doodle. McDougall and her dog were one of the first to take part of the AC Dog Squad.
“When we brought the idea of the dog squad, I thought ‘Wow, this is interesting! Hey, I have a dog, wouldn’t it be fun to be part of something new to the college and that can help me interact with students more,’” said McDougall.
“In my position, I don’t get away from my desk very often since I’m in meetings constantly. I’m not the kind of person to go get coffee or go out for lunch,” she said. “So, joining the dog squad forced me to get out and engage with the student body.”
Ben Schizkoske, 19, a business administration student, first met the squad at AC Day 1 during his first semester back in 2019, where the COVID-19 pandemic was not yet in view. The AC Dog Squad was stationed in front of the Algonquin Commons Theatre.
“They directed me to their Instagram account, so whenever they posted that there were on campus I would know immediately and meet them,” said Schizkoske.
Out of all the dogs he had met, Schizkoske preferred both Ricky, a five-year-old husky, and Jessie, the seven-year-old bulldog.
“The dog squad is awesome,” said Schizkoske. “They helped me get through study sessions and homework. Without them, it would have been a lot harder to stay on track with my homework.”
Claire van Eeghen, a 28-year-old 2020 graduate in the event management program, is also a fan.
“I met the dog squad like a lot of other students, just by wandering the halls and seeing all these friendly canines wandering around and being curious,” she said. “I talked to the person who was with the dogs. Hearing that they were a mental health initiative on campus, I thought that was really awesome.”
Although van Eeghen would not choose a favourite dog, she remembers the positive impression Fozzie, a five-year-old mix, and Ricky, a five-year-old husky left with her.
“I always took every opportunity to hang out with the dogs,” said van Eeghen. “I think it’s great that even if we can’t have students on campus, the dog squad is still thriving to have that mental health initiative continue by putting content up on social media.”