On Nov. 21, two trained therapy dogs and their handlers visited VIU to help students in residence relieve stress and fears over an impending strike.

The event was originally scheduled to take place in bldg. 193 but was moved to the VIU residence Cedar Centre instead.

The canine ambassadors are part of the St. John Ambulance’s Therapy Dog Program, a program wherein compassionate dogs and handlers visit people in hospitals and long-term care facilities to provide comfort and reduce feelings of stress and loneliness.

Sandra Gaspardone, a volunteer with the St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program says, “it’s a proven fact that dogs can reduce stress. Petting dogs can reduce stress and lower blood pressure as well—it’s just therapeutic.”

She was accompanied by her dog, “Ivan,” an eight- and-a-half-year-old German shepherd. She says that Ivan has been in the Therapy Dog Program for five years. She likens Ivan’s determination to pass the program requirement to a university student trying to survive midterms. “It took him a while to grow up because they have to pass a test and, like people, he didn’t do well at passing tests.”

She adds that Ivan is happiest when surrounded by people with food, “we let people feed him if they want to. Some people that have therapy dogs will take their own treats because they don’t want their dogs just getting fed people stuff,”Gaspardone says. “We’ve never worried about it with him; he loves to eat cookies.”

Ivan was surrounded by stray hairs which he had shed from copious amounts of students stroking his fur. Gaspardone says that it was a good thing the event was moved directly into residence and adds that students really enjoyed petting the dogs and being in their company. She adds that many of the students she has spoken to came to the see the therapy dogs because they were missing their dogs at home.

As Tyleigh Arthur, a third- year Bachelor of Interior Design student petted “Tika,” an 11-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, she glanced at cell phone photos of her own yellow Labrador retriever. “To have [therapy dogs] here is great because a lot of people here in residence have dogs at home,” Arthur says. “I have a yellow lab at home and it’s really hard to be away from them all the time when you’re used to having them around. It’s a nice comfort to have these dogs come in and be able to spend some time with them and be able to talk to the owners and just to have the experience of having a dog around. It’s a nice comfort.”

The event was put on by VIUSU. James Bowen, Resource Coordinator at Campus Life and Events, says “The VIUSU board of directors is always trying to come up with new ways to make life better for students at VIU,” Bowen says. “One board member suggested this idea and everyone present jumped on it.”