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Therapy pups relieve university students’ woes

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Some furry friends visited the University of Manitoba from April 8 to 10 to combat the cluttered and stressful minds of students.
The university’s Student Life and Health and Wellness program asked St. John Ambulance Winnipeg for a little help from the group’s therapy dogs as a healthy distraction for U of M students.
Students were invited to sit with the dogs in small groups to relax and forget about their troubles for a few minutes.
"As students are coming in they are really excited, and asking questions about the dogs and how they got there," said Julia Civka, Health and Wellness educator. "When they are leaving everyone just has a smile on their face, so it’s just an incredible effect what these pets have."
Four different therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers came to the event, where there was a constant lineup to see them.
"It’s a really good distraction for the students because some are in the middle of exams, or writing papers, or escaping from really tough programs that they are in," said Civka. "After, they come up and say they aren’t worried anymore, ‘I feel so much better, I’m relaxed, this is the best part of my day.’ So overall there are lots and lots of positive comments from it."
Civka said she’s found students today are feeling more pressure because they aren’t adequately prepared to move away from home and take care of themselves on top of an increased course load.
"They come to university and don’t realize the amount of stress and what type of stress they’ll be under," said Civka. "Those students who didn’t have that preparation in high school, they aren’t ready, and they might have a really stressful time, they might crash earlier on."
The different dogs had unique backgrounds much like the students they visited. Bailey is an eight-year-old English Labrador, is different from its more popular relative, the American Labrador, as she has a larger head with a shorter body.
"I have a dog just like her back home," said Brittany Silverstein, a University 1 student, hitting the right spot behind Bailey’s ears. "I get so happy, I’m not as stressed, and I feel so calm around dogs. I think it’s such a good program to have."
Atticus Finch, named after the main character in the famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird, is a rescue black lab mix with a white stripe on his chest. He was shot in the hip during a dog cull in the northern reserves but survived to serve others.
His owner, Tim Slavin, has been volunteering with Atticus since 2011, taking over for his wife who passed away from cancer in January of this year.
Slavin said he can’t get over watching the students come in and just relax.
"He’s never had this much attention in one day," said Slavin. "I’m really surprised to see the line of people waiting to meet the different dogs, this is incredible."
Another therapy pup, Score, is a 14-year-old black and white Papillon. She’s a former national SuperDogs champion who her owner said had too much energy to retire. Third year geography student Sarah Freeborn came out to sit with Score because she missed her animals back home, and it was a distraction from the multiple final assignments piling up.
"This last week of school, the pressure is really on," said Freeborn. "It’s a break I need and it reminds me of my own animals at home."

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