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Dogs relieve campus stress
St. John Ambulance therapy animals visit Aurora College to help students cope during exam week

Robin Grant
Northern News Services
Friday, December 16, 2016

Aurora College students walking out of exams on Monday were greeted by a surprise.

NNSL photo/graphic

Aurora college students Maurissa Antle, left, and Meagan McDougall just finished an exam. Outside the exam room, they ran into Atticus, a St. John Ambulance therapy dog, with his owner, Kim Williams. - Robin Grant/NNSL photo

Four St. John Ambulance therapy dogs were on campus waiting for them, cheerful with their tails wagging.

"I just finished writing my exam right now and to come down here and see all these dogs is awesome," said Meagan McDougall, a first-year social work student. "They're so much fun and they love being petted and it's nice to cuddle with them."

The dogs were visiting as part of the St. John Ambulance therapy-dog program, a community-based service offered by volunteers.

Currently, there are 19 nationally certified dog-owner teams in Yellowknife who visit hospitals, retirement residents, long-term and short-term care facilities.

Therapy dog visits to university campuses is a growing trend across the country with the dogs turning up as permanent fixtures at campuses from University of British Columbia to Dalhousie University in Halifax.

The dogs provide students who are going through a stressful time with exams and assignments relief from academic pressures at this time of year.

Aurora research instructor Pertice Moffitt could see the value in having therapy dogs on campus.

"It was really nice to come down here and see the dogs," she said. "They are so friendly and they just love people, they come to us - it's a beautiful thing."

There are countless studies which point to the psychological and even physical benefits of interacting with friendly dogs, according to Teresa Toutant, director of community services at St. John Ambulance.

"One of the objectives of the therapy dog program is to enhance the well-being of people through the therapeutic care of dogs," she said.

"To be able to provide a calm, relaxed environment for both students and staff at the college is important to us as we strive to extend our volunteer work within the Yellowknife community."

Wendy Ondrack and Oscar, her shih tzu, are volunteers with the program. According to her, contact with dogs through the program has made people happier.

"If their smiles are any indication, they are absolutely thrilled to see the dogs" she said. "The dogs love it too."

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