Online dog therapy program continues during USask’s fall semester

Dr. Colleen Dell's dog, Anne-Belle helping out with the online therapy dog program. Dr. Linzi Williamson/ Submitted

An online therapy dog program at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) will continue during the fall semester after positive feedback from a survey.

Dr. Linzi Williamson said the decision was made after nearly 400 people from the campus completed an online questionnaire.

“What was clear was the want for the therapy dogs for reasons of stress relief, they missed them, or because they wanted to learn about the therapy dogs during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Williamson said.

The PAWS Your Stress Therapy Dog program switched to an online format on April 20 when USask closed due to the pandemic.

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A normal year would see 40 dogs visit the school grounds with their handlers, giving students the chance to interact with them. The canines are from the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program.

But, that has been put on hold. Now it will be moved to Zoom and Facebook live sessions throughout fall, which are free to register for.

The online program is also for faculty and staff at the university.

“When we realized that a lot of people are feeling stress from [COVID-19] and we wanted to be able to provide some messaging to them and tie it into the dogs’ lives,” said Williamson, a post-doctoral fellow.

Williamson says with the switch to online sessions, the dogs don’t necessarily have to have extensive training in order to take part in the session. They just have to be friendly and comfortable on camera.

“We are going to pilot this and see how it goes,” said Williamson. “(We’ll) see if we can add other types of animals for people to connect with.”


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