Dogs help King’s students de-stress during exams

More than 200 King’s students visit the Paws Room to pet dogs to reduce the stress of exams.

By Francesca Handy

University of King's College students unwind with some canine assistance (Photo: Francesca Handy/Peninsula News)
University of King’s College students unwind with some canine assistance (Francesca Handy/Peninsula News)

More than 200 University of King’s College students visited the Paws Room on April 1, a program put on by the nonprofit organization Therapeutic Paws of Canada. It allows students to pet dogs to reduce the stress of exams.

Mark Grant, Halifax and Dartmouth’s team leader for the organization and past president of the Halifax Kennel Club, led the event held on Tuesday in the Senior Common Room with his 165-pound St. Bernard, Coal. The St. Bernard lay on his side as ten students pet him.

“All of the dogs offer a therapeutic calming presence to folks because dogs are generally very calm, especially these dogs,” said Grant. “There are studies out there that have shown dogs can help to lower your blood pressure and they can help you de-stress.”

King’s student Mariah Wheaton said that it was her first time attending the Paws Room.

“I’m happy I came out,” said Wheaton. “I was feeling panicky but being around the energy of the dogs has a really calming effect.”

Grant was one of four volunteer handlers to share their dog with the University of King’s College. Along with Coal, Grant’s third St. Bernard to work with the organization, students were able to spend time with Sydney, a Shetland sheepdog, Axel, a Bernese mountain dog and Chase, a golden retriever.

Dr. Colleen Dell, a professor in the department of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan, is the principle investigator for a research project to study the treatment of drug addiction with animal-assisted therapy. She says introducing an animal at a stressful time can be helpful in the therapeutic process.

“You can ask a room full of people if their pet is a part of their family and if [their pet] helps with their health and wellness and overwhelmingly everyone will say, ‘yes,’” said Dell. “It’s not that question of if it works – it’s how it works and what we’re trying to do is get that understanding of what’s going on there.”

Wheaton said she thinks the Paws Room is a good way for universities to address the stress of exams.

“It’s a good alternative to going to a doctor to deal with stress,” said Wheaton. “It’s a step in the right direction for other programs that could be put in.”

A growing organization

Therapeutic Paws of Canada is a nonprofit organization that was started by Judy Sauvé and her dog in Hawkesbury, Ont. Grant says the organization has since grown to 58 team leaders and 500 teams, each consisting of a handler and a dog or cat.

The organization offers three set programs to communities across the country; a Paws Room program that they bring to Universities during exam time, a Senior Visitation program at nursing homes and longterm care facilities, and Paws-to-Read program in various libraries and after-school programs to encourage children to learn to read. Grant says the organization has recently been offering their services to corporate workplaces.

“A number of teams went into the Microsoft workplace,” said Grant. “During their breaks [employees] would come out, and instead of going to have a cigarette or running down to have a pint of beer, would come down and spend time with the dogs.”

Mark Grant with Coal, his St. Bernard (Francesca Handy/Peninsula News)


Moving forward

Dell said the research project will be working with other organizations similar to Therapeutic Paws of Canada that use animal assisted therapy to help students de-stress.

“We’re hoping to help bring evidence forward to some of the organizations to expand even further and looking at what the needs are,” said Dell. “This is really just getting started.”

Grant said Paws Rooms are a positive experience for students and the dogs.

“We’re so happy to go out and offer services to the general public. It’s just a delight to share the dogs”

Mark Grant & Coal at the end of the day (Francesca Handy/Peninsula News)
Mark Grant & Coal at the end of the day (Francesca Handy/Peninsula News)