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Therapy dogs offer mental health support for U of S students

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A program at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is having a paws-itive impact on student mental health, and they’re not making any bones about it.

U of S students Lauryn Sabirish and Kayla Arisman know all too well the stress associated with getting a degree and a master’s degree, so when Molly the Old English Bulldog comes to visit campus with the therapy dog program, it makes a difference.

“It’s been a very safe space for me to go, especially during high stress times like midterms or finals,” Sabirish told CTV News.

“Supports that animals can offer people that people just can’t. There’s a non-judgmental, really safe space that animals provide,” Arisman said.

The five-year-old Molly is one of sixteen dogs helping out in the program.

“Our dogs are on campus every two weeks visiting with students to offer comfort and support, so it’s the aim of the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program and they partner with us on calls. pause your stress,” said Colleen Dell, U of S sociology researcher and Molly’s handler.

Graduate student, Aliya Khalid, helps run the program with Dell and is seeing a great interest in booking the dogs.

“This term we’ve had a lot of other departments reaching out,” she says.

They’ve had requests from the international student department, Edwards School of Business and St. Thomas More College.

It’s so popular with students that about 125 of them come out to interact with the dogs every two weeks and they’ve even had as many as 400 enjoying the furry friends.

“It serves as a hub to meet other individuals and then they get to talk about the dogs because they’re there because they all love dogs, typically,” Dell said.

Arisman, who is now finished her sociology masters degree, says she’s grateful for the support the therapy dogs gave her at a crucial time in her life.

“Right after my friend had passed away and then I had to write a final the next day and it was a really great break almost from what you’re thinking and your life, stress and everything,” she said.

Since starting in 2016, over 30,000 students have made fur-ever friends on campus through the mental health initiative. 

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