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PHOTOS: Therapy dogs bring smiles to college students in Saanich

Popular program returns to Camosun College Interurban after pandemic hiatus

With the end of the semester looming, some four-legged friends helped students bury their stress on Monday as therapy dogs returned to Camosun College’s Interurban College for the first time since the pandemic began.

“Everybody has been so happy, they always are when they see these dogs,” said Julie Newson, an organizer with St. John Ambulance’s therapy dog program. “It always brings a smile to everyone’s faces, it’s just a happy event.”

Newson, holding the leash of shaggy tan dachshund Jessie, said just petting a therapy dog can help immediately lower a person’s blood pressure and kickstart the flow of endorphins.

“We see that sometimes, with just five minutes of petting the dog and the people leave much more relaxed. Even in those five minutes, if they can just forget their problems and have a nice moment with the dog, then that’s worth it.”

Most dogs don’t become therapy dogs until they’re about seven years old, but Jessie’s calming presence meant she was able to enter the program at the age of three. As Newson spoke, Jessie was putting her soothing skills to work as a student stroked the mini dachshund’s head.

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As eight-year-old black and white springer spaniel Max spun around her legs, Lisa Hill said he has served as a therapy dog for a dementia facility and for Special Olympics athletes, as well as filling in at the library as a substitute story dog.

“Kids who have a hard time reading are sometimes more relaxed reading to a dog,” Hill said.

But she and Max enjoy their college and university visits the most.

“A lot of (students) have dogs back home, so they’re missing (them).”

Their visits have also broken down some barriers for those who aren’t as comfortable around dogs, Hill said. She recalled that during past visits to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, some students would begin the semester watching the dogs from afar. After a couple of weeks, she’d recognize the same students coming to pet the dogs.

“By the end of the semester, they were all laying down on the floor with the dogs. There’s just something about them that people are drawn to.”

Hill said many therapy dog program volunteers like her are also nurses, so it’s been a tough two years for them. With the school visits making students, volunteers and the dogs happy, they always make for a welcome boost to the soul, she said. Follow us on Instagram.
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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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