Paws Your Stress program kicks off with first therapy dog visit

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald First year SUNTEP student Chessa Billo visits with Lily the therapy dog on Friday during the first St. John Ambulance therapy dog visit for students and staff.

Students at the SUNTEP campus in Prince Albert got to meet the newest member of the SUNTEP family on Friday morning.

Lily the therapy dog and her handler Kathy Nagy visited staff and students as part of the “PAWS your STRESS” initiative at the campus.

Prince Albert SUNTEP has sponsored the first certified St. John Ambulance therapy dog in the city. This was the first visit but it will become a weekly visit going forward.

“I’m very brand new to this,” Nagy said. “We have only been in this program for four months and Lily is the only dog in Prince Albert that is a St. John Ambulance therapy dog, so there is a real need for more dogs to be here.”

Nagy explained that Lily, who is one-year-old, has always been a mellow animal. She said that’s one of the most important traits for therapy dogs, since jumpy animals who run around a lot can hinder the calm atmosphere the handlers want to create.

Lily began training as a therapy dog following a visit to British Columbia last August.

“(We were) walking her down the street and she took me towards this homeless man in a wheelchair and she put her head on his legs,” Nagy remembered. “I introduced myself and I’m like ‘what’s going on?’ We talked to the guy and then another man came over. He was from the States and he asked if she was a therapy dog. I didn’t know what that meant.”

After returning to Saskatchewan, Nagy did some research, and decided Lily would make a great therapy dog.

“I phoned Regina and I said I was from Prince Albert. They said, ‘well, just to let you know, we have had a few dogs come from Prince Albert that have been unsuccessful.’ I said, ‘well, you haven’t met Chill Lil, so we went down there and she rocked it.”

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald A group of third year SUNTEP students on a break from classes got to meet Lily the therapy dog during the first St. John Ambulance therapy dog visit for students and staff on Friday.

The exam for becoming a therapy dog is extensive. It involves people throwing objects and making noise. Nagy said Lily was a perfect fit.

“When she is on her leash, that is her security blanket. All I have to do is scratch her head and say ‘Lil we got this,’ because we work as a team,” she said.

Lily’s training includes only a dog obedience class when she was a puppy and an agility class.

Lily is also a unique breed, the Bernedoodle.

“She’s a Bernese Mountain Dog mixed with Golden Doodle so a Bernedoodle and she comes right here from Prince Albert at Prairie Paws,” Nagy explained. “Dave and Carolyn Hobden raise these dogs and they are amazing. They have the best disposition.”

Lily is also hypoallergenic and doesn’t shed because of the Doodle in her breeding. She is sponsored by SUNTEP and has the logo of the sponsor on her vest.

Bonnie Novotny, Department Head for SUNTEP, said the idea to have a therapy dog visit campus came from a similar program created by their partners at the University of Saskatchewan called Paws Your Stress. As part of the program, therapy dogs will visit the University of Saskatchewan while students are doing final exams.

Novotny said that the idea is to partner with Nagy and Lily for Paws Your Stress across all academic terms. The first term had just started at SUNTEP.

“We know that stress is high during final exams,” Novotny explained. “This is the start of a new term and so the students have met once and now they are going to get to interact with Lily.”

Friday marked Lily’s first official visit to the campus. She stopped in the first, second and third year classes during their visit. Ryan Fisher, a first year student at SUNTEP said that she helped in the first interaction on Friday.

“(It’s) a measure of comfort and de-stress, relief of anxiety,” Fisher said. “It’s always nice to see a fluffy soft dog to pet. She’s like a big teddy bear.”

Fourth year students were out in the field on Friday.

The initiative was made possible with the help of St. John Ambulance, Gabriel Dumont Institute and Nagy.

Therapy dogs are available to anyone who would like a visit from the program.

“Any business can ask to have a therapy dog come in to their program. You have to call Regina and then they ask me. Lily goes into the mental health ward inpatients at the hospital, she is doing great things there and she also goes into Sask Polytechnic, but sponsored by SUNTEP,” Nagy said.