Have no fear, the therapy dogs are here

It’s dark by 4:30 p.m. Hordes of deadlines and final exams loom over students’ heads as the end of the semester nears. A collective longing for calmness, comfort and stress relief is palpable on campus. Cue the therapy dogs. Two golden retrievers, one Irish setter and one tiny white one that looked like a stuffed […]
Photo: Magan Carty
Ryan Parent enjoys a hug with Oakley on Nov. 24 in the AC Hub. Four St. John Ambulance therapy dogs visited the college for the Paws 4 Stress event.

It’s dark by 4:30 p.m. Hordes of deadlines and final exams loom over students’ heads as the end of the semester nears. A collective longing for calmness, comfort and stress relief is palpable on campus.

Cue the therapy dogs.

Two golden retrievers, one Irish setter and one tiny white one that looked like a stuffed animal visited Algonquin College on Nov. 24.

Caleigh eagerly awaits her next visitor after a swarm of hugs and cuddles.
Caleigh eagerly awaits her next visitor after a swarm of hugs. Photo credit: Magan Carty

Caleigh, Oakley, Shadow and Love are part of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program. Dogs in this program reach thousands of people across Canada every day. They travel with their owners to long-term care homes, mental health facilities, hospitals, schools and libraries.

The college hosted the St. John Ambulance therapy dogs as part of the Paws 4 Stress program. The AC Hub was bustling with excitement and joy from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. as students got in line for a chance to meet each dog.

“It’s so special for me to get to pet and hug them,” said AAADD student Ryan Parent.

“I want to get a picture with every single one of them and then send it to my grandparents.”

Parent wasn’t alone in his excitement. Many students made a point of telling the dog owners how much they missed their own dogs at home and how nice it was to have a dose of canine love during such a stressful time.

Shadow and Oakley wait in the wings as students line up in the AC Hub for their chance to meet them.
Shadow and Oakley wait in the wings as students line up in the AC Hub for their chance to meet them. Photo credit: Magan Carty

Chantel Ringuette and her dog, Oakley, have been volunteering with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program for four years. They had to take a “COVID intermission” but have kept busy ever since.

Ringuette learned about the opportunity at the Ottawa Pet Expo. She came across St. John Ambulance’s booth, which encouraged owners and their dogs to apply. Oakley underwent a temperament assessment and was accepted into the therapy dog program at only two years old.

“He’s always shown that he’s been drawn to people. He likes to be pet by people; he likes to be talked to by people; he likes to meet the other dogs,” said Ringuette.

Ringuette and Oakley plan to keep doing this for a long time.

“I love sharing my dog with people who might need him,” Ringuette said. “It feels really meaningful.”

Ringuette loves seeing the smiles on people’s faces and she said it is the most rewarding part about participating in the therapy dog program with Oakley.

“And he’s happy, I can tell he’s happy and that makes me happy. I’m a dog-lover, always have been and he’s a super special dog,” she said.

Paws 4 Stress will be back at the AC Hub on Wednesday, Dec. 7 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Admission is free. So are the cuddles.

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