By Doug Hallett
University of Guelph students lined up last week for a chance to pet a dog or two.
The long line outside the Central Student Association office in the University Centre was for a trial run of a new service. It’s expected to be offered again once mid-terms and final exams roll around at the U of G.
Those are “high stress times for students,” says Kaela Shaw, a first-year Ontario Veterinary College student who is the team leader for the Guelph chapter of Therapeutic Paws of Canada.
The national volunteer-run charity takes certified dogs and cats to nursing homes and retirement homes for regular visits with the elderly. Shaw’s team has been doing this in Guelph since she formed the team 1 ½ years ago when she was an undergraduate student, before enrolling at OVC.
She said university students, like the elderly who lose their pets when they move into a nursing home, benefit from contact with pets, especially when stressed by exams and heavy coursework.
“Students come here (to the U of G) and are used to living with their animals, and then they don’t,” Shaw said while holding a leash. At the other end of the leash, getting copious attention from students whose turn it was to spend a few minutes in the room, was Jude, her 11-year-old bearded collie.
The two-hour event Thursday was a trial run for the service, which has also been tried at some other Canadian universities, she said. She expects the dogs to return in March during mid-term exams at the U of G.
“You don’t see many dogs around here. You can’t have pets in rez,” said Joanne Shantz, who was at Thursday’s event with her residence roommate Shannon Wood. Both first-year environmental science students, they said they’d be watching for the petting opportunity to return. “I think it’s a great idea,” said Wood.
Two exchange students from Brazil, who are at the U of G for a year, were also glad to see the dogs.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen a dog since we’ve been here in Canada,” said Maria Oliveira, a third-year science student.
Her companion, Joao Coimbra, a third-year mechanical engineering student, said he was there because he really likes dogs, and they’re not allowed in residence. Shaw said dogs used for Therapeutic Paws of Canada work are all pets of the volunteers, and the animals go through testing before they are used to ensure they are temperamentally suited for the work.
The Guelph team has only three dogs at this point, but it’s hoping to become better known and attract more volunteers along with their dogs, she said.