Paws with a cause

Therapy dogs help students de-stress for finals.

A collage of St. John's Ambulance therapy dogs interacting with people.

Kier-Christer Junos / The Runner

By Jessica Brynelson

With finals hanging over the campus, students are doing their best to keep their brains from turning to mush just long enough to ace one last test. Because of the increased levels of stress, the START volunteer program has introduced something special to the Surrey campus to help students relax—puppies.

Stephanie Chee, the volunteer coordinator for the START program has been working with St. John’s Ambulance to bring dogs of all different breeds and ages to KPU students. The puppies are laid back and love receiving the attention almost as much as students will love giving it. On Dec. 8 and Dec. 9, the Surrey campus welcomed the therapy dogs in Fir 122 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition, the Langley campus will play host to the four-legged-friends on Dec. 17 in room L1665, also from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Chee explains that this program’s been in the works for about a year now, and that due to “Student comments and suggestions we thought it would be [a good thing] to have on campus.”

The therapy dog program is a workshop that is a part of the START mini-school sub-program that launched last January. Past mini-school events included the free guitar and DJ lessons that have taken place on the Surrey, Langley, and Richmond campuses. Chee was thrilled to have the opportunity to bring these dogs to KPU because she finds it, “very therapeutic to have something to pet,” and is a dog lover herself. She finds the presence of the dogs “comforting” during this stressful time of year.

Volunteers with the St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog program take the dogs to different locations each week. Julie Sirois, one of the volunteers, works with Bentley, a four-year-old purebred standard poodle. Together, they have volunteered a few days each week for the past year. Sirois takes Bentley to a variety of places, including senior’s residences, the B.C. Cancer Society, and even a local library.

The St. John’s Ambulance runs the “Paws 4 Stories” program through different libraries where children can practice their literacy skills by reading aloud to the dogs. These dogs have very calm temperaments and are full of love. Sirois says that Bentley has “really helped with my depression,” and really appreciates the “unconditional love” that he gives her.

It’s certainly not a one-way relationship. The dogs receive lots of love and attention, not only from their owners but from all the people they visit through these volunteer programs. Sirois says she was surprised by Bentley, and how calm he was once he put on the scarf that indicates he’s a therapy dog. She says she hears a lot of people saying that their dogs couldn’t be therapy dogs. Sirois was pleasantly surprised with “how quickly [Bentley] adapts to his environment and the circumstance that he’s in.”

Chee states, “The KSA START volunteer program would like all the KPU students to get fluffy for finals.” So whether your finals are just beginning, or coming to an end, visiting these dogs might be the perfect way to relieve some of the stress the semester has left you with.


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