Dogs

Students at King’s visit with therapy dogs

These canine companions made their second visit of the semester to campus

Colby and owner Nancy Vanstone have volunteered with Therapeutic Paws of Canada  for seven years.   Colin Slark

For some stressed out students who have nearing deadlines for term papers and final exams, the perfect way to relax is to spend some quality time with a dog.

That can be a challenge for students living in dorms, but a therapy dog visit Tuesday was just what some students needed. Four dog and owner teams from Therapeutic Paws of Canada dropped by Alexandra Hall at the University of King’s College.

King’s student Sarah Hilton got to spend some quality time with Colby, an 11-year-old labradoodle.

“I really like dogs and I miss my own at home,” she said. “Also, they’re very soothing to be around.”

Each dog was set up at a station and students circulated around the room to spend time with each animal. Every dog was subjected to a barrage of compliments, pats, pets and belly rubs.

Cassie the golden retriever gets some belly rubs from a student.   Colin Slark

Every week, TPOC’s Halifax teams visit places like seniors’ homes, hospitals and schools. TPOC Halifax team leader Mark Grant estimates that at previous King’s visits up to 100 students took part.

PetSmart Charities of Canada recently gave TPOC a $10,000 grant to increase the number of therapy animal visits to post-secondary students like this one.

Colby and owner Nancy Vanstone also make trips to Halifax Central Library for the Paws to Read program. To encourage the development of their literacy skills, children get the chance to read to therapy dogs. Having the dogs around can be an incentive for a child normally unwilling to read.

“I was working and planning my retirement and I love to read. I read about dogs helping children with their reading; I’d also read that labradoodles were excellent therapy dogs,” said Vanstone. “It’s a wonderful way to volunteer in your community, to share your dog.”

Colby delighted the crowd at one point by playing a shell game with his owner. During the game, he correctly chose which metal cup covered a treat and was rewarded.

Michelle Legassicke, a residence don at King’s, said that visits are arranged about four times per year to help students relax around exam time.

“It’s just nice to meet a dog that will unconditionally love you and know nothing about you,” said Legassicke.

Dog owner Judy Power estimates that she’s done hundreds of visits with her golden retriever Cassie in three years with TPOC.

Every dog that is part of a Therapeutic Paws of Canada visit has been certified by the group as a therapy dog.   Colin Slark

Each dog and owner team is certified by TPOC after going through a series of exercises that test their rapport with each other and their temperament. Each dog must be at least a year old before an owner can apply for certification.

Legassicke said she hopes to bring the dogs back to campus in February.

Nova Scotia’s official dog, the duck tolling retriever, was represented at the event by Cassie.   Colin Slark