Stress relief has gone to the dogs

Pet Access League Society (PALS) is lending Calgarians a helping paw to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve emotional well-being through pet therapy.

PALS is a non-profit charitable organization that offers pet therapy events at more than 60 facilities in Calgary, including hospitals, care facilities, post-secondary institutions, and homeless shelters.

Pet therapy allows people to interact with trained animals to help with stress, anxiety and trauma. Pet therapy can also improve physical health by lowering blood pressure and relieving pain.

“Whether you are enrolled in university, working in corporate Calgary, currently homeless, or a patient in a hospital, there exists a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety,” PALS executive director Diana Segboer said in an interview.

“Therapy pets bring calmness and peace to those they visit, not only the clients or patients, but the staff and caregivers as well.”

Puppy Love: PALS volunteer Stacey pets Figo the Vizsla in MacEwan Hall at the University of Calgary on Oct. 25. PALS volunteers visit students and staff at the university once a month for Pet Therapy events. (Photo by Oliva McFarlane/The Press)

While dogs are the most popular animals used in pet therapy, PALS also offers visits with cats, rabbits and guinea pigs. All therapy animals must be physically healthy and pass a temperament screening process.

People in a wide range of situations can benefit from pet therapy, Segboer said.

“Therapy animals are non-judgmental. They are not concerned about what has brought you to where you are today, just that they are there to bring you some love and peace for the moment.”

The post-secondary institutions in Calgary that provide regular visits from PALS therapy animals to students and staff are SAIT, he University of Calgary, AUArts and Bow Valley College.

“By taking a few minutes out of your day to interact with therapy pets, you can reduce your stress levels, blood pressure, and improve both your emotional and physical health,” said SAIT event officer Caitlin Tudor.

“I highly recommend it for anyone experiencing anxiety before an exam, presentation, or any stressful situation.”

Paws up: PALS therapy dog Ruby enjoys a belly rub at the University of Calgary on Oct. 25. Ruby lets participants pet her to help them relieve stress and reduce anxiety. (Photo by Oliva McFarlane/The Press)

SAIT introduced its first Pet a Puppy event in 2013 as part of Mental Health Awareness Day. The PALS therapy dogs were extremely popular with students and employees, and SAIT now offers monthly visits.

“Those who attend a Pet a Puppy event very much enjoy the variety of dogs that we get to see at each event,” said Tudor.

“It’s great fun playing shaking the paw of an old-timer Greyhound or playing with excited puppies at their first event,” she said.