Humber students pet their stress away with therapy dog visits

Feb 22, 2023 | Campus News, News

Percy, the campus therapy dog sat calmly beside his handler, Melanie Shulman as Humber students gathered around, waiting for their turn to cuddle him on the third floor of the Learning Resource Commons.

He tucked his head to give a loving hug as a student gently petted him.

“He’s more of a people dog,” Shulman said, “People are his favourite animal.”

Humber College’s therapy dog, Percy, provides on-site mental health support for students to cope with midterm stress last Thursday on campus.

Students who needed a break from their studies, or simply wanted love and comfort, were welcome to come to play with him.

His handler, Melanie Shulman, who is a paralegal professor at Humber College, brings him to campus every week to provide a de-stress service for students.

“Wherever we go, people are just happy to see him, and it’s a nice break to their day to pet him,” Shulman said.

Percy, the lovable golden retriever, became a certified St. John therapy dog in November 2015 and has been visiting Humber College since 2016.

Other than visiting the campus, Percy goes to nursing homes, libraries and treatment centres for adults with intellectual disabilities.

“Mostly he just makes people happy,” Shulman said.

Percy falling asleep.

Percy gets dozy as a student pets him. Melanie Sulman, his handler, said he has always been a calm dog even as a puppy. Photo credit: Melody Lam

Percy is beloved by these communities, gaining more than 9,000 followers on his Instagram page.

His impact on people goes beyond the numbers, however, as his mere presence has brought comfort to people in distress.

Shulman said in one of the nursing home visitations, she recalled a distressed resident sobbing because of constant pain.

That was until Shulman introduced Percy to the resident.

“She pet him for a couple of minutes, and then we left,” she said. “When we walked back past her room, like less than five minutes later, she was asleep.”

According to research conducted by animal therapy researcher and practitioner, Dr. Colleen Dell, therapy dogs may have the ability to alleviate patients’ pain perceptions in emergency rooms.

The study was a clinical trial conducted in the Royal University Hospital Emergency Department in Saskatoon that aimed to determine the effects of a 10-minute therapy dog visit on patients.

Ben Carey, who worked alongside Dr. Dell in the research said after interacting with a therapy dog, patients had a decreased level of pain, anxiety and depression, and an increased level of well-being.

Carey said during the visitation, a therapy dog acts as a distraction that shifts patients’ focus away from their injuries.

“That’s why people reported that they had less pain because they were distracted and were engaging with something else,” he said.

Percy and his handler are on campus.

Percy and his handler, Melanie Shulman come to campus every Thursday to provide love and support for Humber students. Photo credit: Melody Lam

Carey, who is also the Program Coordinator for the University of Saskatchewan’s “PAWS Your Stress” Therapy Dog program, said therapy dogs can promote so much wellness in students by providing a momentary mental break.

He said a therapy dog takes students away from an overwhelming space and allows them to take a mental deep breath.

“Sometimes, they just need a dog telling them it’s all going to be okay,” Carey said.

“Just giving them a good scratch and having that tail wagging in your face, it’s just this unconditional love, comfort and support that these dogs give you,” he said.