Rehab Cell

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Innovation Spotlight on CU Therapy Dog Program

Innovation Spotlight on CU Therapy Dog Program


My name is Shannon Noonan and I’m the
Special Projects Officer for Student Mental Health Engagement and Pet Therapy on campus. It’s really kind of a two-part position where I am working on
engaging students in a conversation around mental health in various ways and
also piloting a new expansion program for staff faculty to get involved using
their own family dogs as therapy dogs on campus. I work really closely with the
Enriched Support Program at the Centre for Initiatives in Education and we do
office hours there for students in that program. We also do some
strategic visits with various service centres on campus, so CSAS or Awards
or the Career Centre, places that students may not ordinarily frequent and we want to try and drive some more traffic in there and also to address some more
stressful times of the year. In order to become a therapy dog, I would classify
the process as kind of having three key elements: training, temperament and
testing. Training would be a base level of obedience skills and
temperament is really a natural thing that a dog would be very calm naturally
and they aren’t too excitable – that they want to meet people they have the
inclination to meet other people and get excited about that. And the testing is
just there are certain things that they have to pass. The process is a course of
six weeks of dog training at a professional dog training school and
then one evaluation, two evaluations actually, to make sure that kind of
cross-checking the different dogs. And then if all goes
well, they can be part of the program on campus. Blue is pretty much
the same at home as he is on campus but he’s certainly different during
active visit times. He knows that people are coming in to see him and he
greets every person. And there’s cues that I give him like, “Say hi,” and things like that that he knows that he supposed to be engaging
with other people. Then when we get back to our desk and it’s kind of the run of
the mill and I’m doing work, he’s mostly sleeping getting some side treats from
people in the office. Blue’s most off the clock time is when he’s playing in the
park with other dogs. He loves to run and he likes to wrestle and you would might
think he’s a different dog than he is at work at Carleton. My favourite part of my
job is the looks that I get when I walk down the hall when I’m with Blue on
campus and there’s a noticeable difference on days that I bring him to
campus and on days that I don’t. People don’t really recognize me without him but also
when I do have him and there’s these smiles on people’s faces – strangers
walking down the hall they just see him and they just light up with a huge smile.
That’s probably my favourite part and also just the camaraderie and community
that it builds for people around me in my office and students and everyone
really.

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