Humber College’s student government last year introduced a therapeutic way to help students cope with everyday life stresses — weekly visits from a friendly four-legged friend.
Percy, a golden retriever, made his first appearance on campus at the start of the 2015 winter semester when Melanie Shulman, a St. John Ambulance therapy dog handler and Humber faculty alum, approached Humber Students’ Federation, now known as Ignite, with the idea.
“He visited the Student Federation for all of the winter semester and then somebody from the library saw us and asked if we would visit the library too, so we arranged that for this semester” Shulman said. “Now Percy visits here twice a week.”
While Humber also offers counselling services that are focused on helping students who are stressed and overwhelmed, St. John Ambulance’s therapy dog program was created to bring joy to those who are in need of immediate relief.
Ignite Vice President of Student Life Ammar Abdul-Raheem said therapy is best when used in tandem with other forms of therapy.
“Counselling may be great for some students but others love to see Percy more,” he said. “What’s important to focus on is providing different options for students and continuing the progression of offering more for students.”
Visits from therapy dogs are most common in schools, nursing homes and hospitals due to the positive effects they have on people.
A Therapy Dogs International study conducted from 1996 to 1998 by Jacqueline Jones, PhD, focused on the impact pet therapy has on residents and staff in facilities.
The study indicates 80 per cent of the 200 respondents said therapy dog visits increased their alertness, while 86.5 per cent said the visits increased their socialization and 92 per cent said it gave them a positive mood alteration.
“Everybody seems to like Percy,” Shulman said. “Wherever he goes he attracts a lot of love and he obviously likes it, too. From my point of view it lets me bring him to school with me and its nice not to leave him behind at home. Its kind of a win-win for everybody.”
Students are allowed to spend time petting and showering Percy with hugs and kisses during their one-hour visits to the third-floor foyer by the library in the LRC building.
Percy’s visits help some students fill the void of not having their own dog around to comfort them in times of need.
First-year academic upgrading student Nicole Augiare, who is currently training a service dog of her own, said it’s nice having Percy around in the meantime.
“I come every week to visit Percy,” she said. “I actually have a service dog myself but he’s not quite ready, they have to be about 2-years-old to be certified.
“I’m training him for myself for a psychiatric service dog and in the meantime it’s nice to see the dog because I can’t have mine with me,” Augiare said. “Dogs are cute, they’re happy and they make me feel better.”