Algonquin students Cici Liu (left) and Kayla Cloutier (right) play with Leica, a German Shepherd rescue dog from St. John Ambulance's therapy dogs Photo credit: Saira Qureshi

Algonquin got a visit from St. John Ambulance’s therapy dogs on Oct. 2 as part of the college’s annual Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Students, Kayla Cloutier and Cici Liu, were among the first people to show up to the event as they waited in excitement outside room E206 in the Student Commons building.

“It allows you at least a little bit of relief from the stress,” said Cloutier.

As first-year students in the business administration program, the two are trying to adapt to the college environment and the course load that comes with it.

“I find that it is stressful because the semester’s only four months,” said Liu. “Being a first-year student in post-secondary we are used to six-month semesters so now it’s been cut short and there are more assignments.”

Apart from Cloutier and Liu, more than 20 students showed up to play with the three dogs: Lizzy, Leica and Coco.

Bernadette Patton who owns Lizzy, a Morkie, has been coming to the college for five years. She said that the therapy dogs are invited to the campus on a monthly basis, but Lizzy’s personal placement is at Riverpark Retirement Residence.

“She works mainly with people with dementia,” said Patton. “They may not react to anything but they will react to the dog because when you stroke the dog, it releases endorphins in your brain.”

Heather Hayne noted that not every dog can become a therapy dog. Hayne who owns a German Shepherd rescue dog named Leica, explained that therapy dogs need to go through a series of 12 short tests.

“If they are successful in the series of tests – that they are not showing that they are nervous or aggressive – then they will start some visits with another person, a mentor from the St. John’s group,” said Hayne. “And after a few visits once they feel comfortable, they can visit on their own.”

The St. John’s program provides services to many areas across Ottawa. Angela Jones Young and her small Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Coco attend city of Ottawa functions and also visit high schools.

“There’s such a need for therapy dogs in the community,” said Young.

Algonquin is taking the initiative and starting their very own therapy dog committee. President Cheryl Jensen made the announcement last week and said that the college will not have “one therapy dog but several.”

Students and staff members can also interact with St. John Ambulance’s therapy dogs again on Oct. 9.