By Akanksha Dhingra
Ryerson students can now meet their favourite therapy dogs through Zoom calls every Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Adriana Sternfels, a leadership development facilitator at Ryerson, said with this semester being remote, RU Therapy Dogs has to adapt and offer events in a virtual setting whenever possible.
She said that while there’s no technology that allows students to pet the dogs through the screens, there are breakout rooms for students to talk to one or two dogs with their handlers.
Third-year fashion design student Angel Arora said she has been dealing with a lot of stress due to the heavy workload since the university has moved its courses online.
“With 2020 being the most uncertain year, I think I really need something to release my stress,” she said.
According to a report by Statistics Canada, the mental health of Canadians has been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to fear of the virus, concerns for family members, lack of social interactions and economic instability.
Statistics Canada surveyed about 46,000 Canadians from April 24 to May 11 and found that youth were the most likely to report a negative impact on their mental health since physical distancing began in March. 64 per cent of those aged between 15 and 24 reported a negative impact on their mental health, while 35 per cent of those aged 65 and older reported a negative impact on their mental health.
Christine Paradis, a coordinator with St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program, said dog handlers want to stay connected with the Ryerson community despite the pandemic.
“If our dog can bring a smile, comfort or diversion from an otherwise monotonous day for a student, then our goal has been achieved,” Paradis said.
“My favourite quote is that a dog is a bond between two strangers,” she said.
Paradis said that many dogs are not engaged in a virtual setting as they are not being pet.
However, Sternfels said “it’s worth a shot” doing the program through Zoom.
“When we ask people how they are feeling before the event versus after the event, I think everyone’s happiness level and mood gets better,” said Sternfels.
In the past years, the program has been popular among students.
Third-year computer science student Hitarth Chudgar loved the concept of therapy dogs at school.
“It was really fun going in last semester because looking at those dogs and petting them helps with the stress and lets you unwind,” said Chudgar.
Chudgar added that since school still tends to be stressful online, he’ll be making a “mandatory visit.”