In our second official year, Carleton University has built our therapy dog roster up to fifteen furry friends to the Carleton Therapy Dog program. There has been a rise in popularity and overwhelming recognition of these team members as an extremely invaluable support and symbol of positive mental health.

Carleton’s Therapy Dogs can be visited during their office hours in locations across campus, as well as partnering with key Student Service centres to offer visits to broaden students’ exposure to different areas and communities on campus. Together with their handlers, the therapy dogs offer a welcoming, supportive environment that can provide a low intensity, yet effective strategy to cope with mental health problems or other stresses.

Many people say that visiting with the dogs simply brightens their day, while others may be struggling and looking for someone who will listen without judgment and gain more meaning from the experience. Tangible results are also seen in levels of confidence, social interactions, connectedness, and general satisfaction at Carleton University. More often than not, a student that opens up about an ongoing issue will be effectively referred to another appropriate resource, due to the trust and bond that is formed over the connection with the animal. All of the handlers are Carleton Staff and Faculty members, who have received a base level of mental health training.

The Background

We all have mental health, and it is on a fluid spectrum. We all have good days and bad days, and sometimes the stresses of life require a little more support – and not every situation requires the help of a counsellor. Therapy dogs offer a way to connect with peers, share knowledge and stories, and presents a unique opportunity for students to take seek support in a different way. Students benefit by:

  • Meeting other students from their classes
  • Supporting each other through stressful times
  • Filling the void of missing family pets
  • Talking about stress and other typical student struggles
  • Often they share “dogs are literally the best part of my week!”

The Rollout

Funds raised will be used to support another year that the therapy dog project can continue to grow and thrive, and maintain its reputation as a viable strategy for mental health and well-being on campus. In addition to the basic requirements of training and onboarding in order to run the program, we have implemented innovative ideas such as:

  • Each dog has a business card which refers students to a different mental health support, and these are collected like trading cards
  • Bringing the dogs in to professor’s office hours and classrooms to talk about mental health and well being
  • Ongoing training for therapy dog handlers
  • Program evaluation

We have ongoing ideas for ways that the dogs can be seen as advocates on campus, potential to “sponsor” student led initiatives around mental health, and continue to fill gaps and break down barriers to seeking support.

The Impact

Carleton Therapy Dogs provides:

  • Reduction in stress
  • Reduction in homesickness
  • Increase in affiliation with the University
  • Increased sense of belonging
  • Increase in well being
  • Low-level support, filling a gap on campus
  • Accessible service
  • Reduced stigma
  • Mental Health Literacy
  • Breaking down of structural barriers that can contribute to a lack of help-seeking in students

“A 1st year student stopped me in the hallway to say the therapy dog program was the reason they chose to come to Carleton. When I asked more about that, she said it was because you could tell overall that Carleton was such a supportive place and with so many services here that help students”.

-Shannon Noonan, Carleton Therapy Dog handler

“I don’t know if I would have been able to get through this week without these dog visits.”

– Anonymous, student

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