February may be the shortest month of the year, but that doesn’t make it any less of a grind. Between the cold winter days, midterms piling up and the uncertainty of what to do about a job, thank goodness for reading week.
But before we get to that point, a little therapy is always nice. What better way to let off some stress than cuddling with some puppies?
Every semester St. John Ambulance visits Western University with a few furry friends in tow. Jenny Houser has been a part of the therapy dog program for nearly seven years and explains the origins of the program.
“St. John Ambulance first started the therapy dog program initially to visit the sick, the isolated, and the elderly. It’s branched from there.”
She says that just about anyone can benefit from some quality time with a dog.
“Dogs are now being used for various disabilities and therapy specifically is out in the community more than ever. Just anybody that is going through stressful situations or is isolated and lonely. Anybody that is struggling from a mental illness can benefit from a therapy dog visit.”
How do dogs get selected to enter the program?
“They’re our own pets that we’ve done our own training with, and then we have seen something in the pet that makes us think would make them a good therapy dog. Their temperament is very social, non-aggressive. They just want to love people.”
Once selected, the dogs must show they can handle uncommon situations.
“They have to be calm enough to be around the elderly. They have to not be afraid of wheelchairs and walkers. The handler has to show that they have complete control over the dog at all times. They have to show that they can get along with other dogs in a neutral setting and be non-aggressive.”
Houser got into the program with her dog, which has since passed away. She is now tested with Jake, a six year old golden retriever that belongs to her friend.
“Jake is very unique. He is an extremely laid-back golden. Most goldens have a wonderful temperament and are very social, and that includes Jake. But he is really just the calmest dog I’ve ever met. He’s excellent with seniors, and he’s excellent for someone who just wants to sit and feel the calmness from him because he really just has this most wonderful zen-like energy about him.”
He is one of four dogs visiting the second floor community room at Western’s UCC on this February afternoon.
“He does well at the university visits too. People can literally lie right on top of him and give him a cuddle and he doesn’t care. He loves it.”
Every person who attended the session left with a big smile on their face. How could you not feel more relaxed after spending time with adorable animals? Their energy is certainly infectious, and there’s just something soothing about giving a big dog a hearty belly rub.