Campus LifeNews

Who let the dogs out? The U of A’s wellness movement

In addition to studying, students can be found in university libraries petting and playing with different dogs.

Dogs from the Edmonton-based non-profit, Chimo Animal Assisted Wellness and Learning Society (CAAWLS), visit the University of Alberta throughout the academic year to relieve student stress.

CAAWLS runs programming in inner-city schools, domestic abuse shelters, the U of A, NAIT, and MacEwan University. While interacting with dogs may have a positive effect on students’ psyche, the dogs’ visits to the U of A are not to be confused with animal-assisted therapy, according to Ann Campbell, executive director of CAAWLS.

“Our dogs have a therapeutic effect on people, but the people who actually have the dogs are laypeople,” Campbell said. “They’re just people who have great dogs who are volunteering.”

Also falling under CAAWLS’ portfolio is animal-assisted therapy, education, and activity. Animal-assisted therapy involves work with an animal and a professional therapist, education deals with teaching, and activities are sessions with less specific focus compared to therapy. The dogs’ regular visits to the U of A are classified as animal-assisted interactions.

CAAWLS’ relationship with the university started in 2012 with the Furry Friends program in the Students’ Union Building, and has since moved to having monthly sessions at Cameron Library. The program was initiated by Robin Everall, who was Interim Vice-Provost and Dean of Students at the time. CAAWLS also facilitates the Dogs in the Library program every two weeks to visit students in other North Campus libraries, as well as sessions with Ruby, a pup who visits the Science Student Services office in the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science.

“A library is a really good place to have a dog because students often go there to study and they’re kinda stressed,” Campbell said.

Though the dogs typically come to campus libraries only two to three times per month, more than 2,000 students were found visiting them in one semester, Campbell said.

“I would like to say the University of Alberta has the most comprehensive animal-assisted wellness program of any university in Canada,” Campbell said. “A lot of other universities have dogs come in for exam week, which was how we started with the U of A, but now the U of A has figured out that, ‘No, it’s better to be proactive with the students’ mental health and to have a more frequent program with the dogs.’”

Cats, in the future, might be brought to campus as well, Campbell said. A cat was present in one of CAAWLS’ tables at the October 22nd Open House.

“If there is an interest for cats, we have a couple of cats,” she said. “The only logistic problem is that not all of our dogs are familiar with cats.”

CAAWLS dogs will continue to make appearances during the Fall 2016 term in the Cameron, Rutherford, and John W. Scott Libraries until December 15. The full schedule can be found online at the University of Alberta Libraries’ blogspot.

“Every time I go, my favourite part is when the students come around the corner and their faces light up and they’re smiling,” Campbell said.

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