With paper-writing season in full swing and finals unfortunately right around the corner, taking some time to relax can slip very low on a student’s list of priorities. The University of Saskatchewan’s PAWS Your Stress therapy dog program brings relaxation to you, providing the ultimate puppy-filled study break.
PAWS Your Stress provides students with an opportunity to interact with trained therapy dogs every other Wednesday in libraries across campus, and more frequently during finals. Students can watch for bulletins on the PAWS homepage in the days leading up to the dogs’ visits to find out where and when they will specifically be.
To learn more about the background and inner workings of this program, I spoke to Alicia Husband, assistant to Colleen Dell, the provincial research chair in Substance Abuse, professor of sociology at the U of S and founder of PAWS Your Stress. Husband is responsible for much of the co-ordination of the puppy rooms and, as a lucky bonus, gets to spend plenty of time with the dogs.
The core ideas behind PAWS Your Stress came about while Dell was conducting research during her sabbatical in 2013-14. At that time, there was not a lot of research at the U of S surrounding the positive effects that animal interaction has on students and others suffering from increased stress.
“The program started a research project on campus to measure love and support and what that does for students,” said Husband. Dell is now finishing a research paper about her findings from the program, but it is not available for the public’s eyes just yet.
The therapy dogs and handlers are provided on a volunteer basis from St. John Ambulance Saskatoon, and are there to help students have a moment of stress-free relaxation, where they can receive some of the unconditional love and support that only a dog can give. Husband notes that many U of S students are away from their childhood pets, and a chance to spend time with any dog can be the bright spot in their day.
“We hear a lot of comments of ‘This is the greatest thing’ or ‘This is the best part of my day.’ I really think that students perceive this as the university giving back to them, that, ‘They really care about my well-being and my health,’” Husband said.
The program has been incredibly well received across campus, with large turnouts at each of the libraries that the puppies visit. PAWS Your Stress visits the Engineering, Education and Music, Health Sciences and Murray libraries, so puppy time is not exclusive to one college.
Finals, of course, are the program’s busiest time.
“Close to 500 students coming in [over] a two to three hour period [came] out last year,” Husband said.
Despite this incredible demand, the PAWS Your Stress program is not currently aiming to expand, as the dogs and their handlers come as volunteers, but rather to solidify themselves within the U of S community.
When asked what it looks like when students begin to arrive for a puppy session, Husband noted an immediate change in the overall mood of the room.
“You can tell that [the students] are carrying weight, stress and tension into the room, but as soon as they walk in there is an instant smile on their faces. They say things like ‘Oh I’m so excited to see you!’ to the dogs,” Husband said. “You can tell as soon as they walk into the room it brightens their day and even if it’s just for five minutes they leave saying ‘My day is so much better now.’”
There is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog to comfort you as you prepare to confront exams that are about as far from a bundle of cuddly joy as you can get. This finals season, make sure to keep an eye out for furry friends in your nearest library to spend some time relaxing in a room full of therapy dogs.
Image: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor