Business administration students at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) brought therapy dogs and their owners back to campus after a year-long break due to COVID-19 complications.
The initiative, branded as PALS at SAIT, originally began as a group project for a management course. This prompted the six members to invite volunteers from the Pet Access League Society (PALS) to visit SAIT students before exam week began to provide emotional support to struggling students.
Mitchell Saltys, a SAIT student involved as one of the event’s project managers, remembers a time before the pandemic when PALS would visit SAIT campus regularly.
“(PALS has) helped out a lot, but have never really gotten anything from it. We thought what better way, especially over COVID to help out an organization that probably needs some funds, than to ask for small donations,” Saltys said.
The group wanted to support the return of PALS to various campuses around Calgary, while also helping students de-stress. Both events were held in the Symposium Room in SAIT’s Campus Centre Building on December 2nd and 9th.
“The first event went amazingly, it was better than we could have expected,” said Saltys. “Everybody came out looking refreshed, happy, everybody was so thrilled to be there.”
The first event attracted over 120 students and faculty, with donations gratefully accepted but not required. Roughly $700 was accumulated from both events, with all proceeds going to PALS.
Maia Newcombe, another coordinating member of the group, said there were some attendees who walked out of the room crying tears of joy and relief.
“We didn’t raise as much money as some of the other groups, but it made a huge impact on the emotional community at SAIT,” Newcombe said.
A report published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says that pets are known to improve the immune system, cardiovascular function, and lower blood pressure.
Therapy pet visits offer emotional support, help lessen anxiety, and provide a sense of comfort. Another study found that petting a dog for just 15 minutes boosts the “feel-good” hormones such as serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin by 10 per cent.
The experience is beneficial not only for students, but for the dogs. Therapy dogs enjoy the company of others and the exposure is beneficial to their training.
Diana Seboer, the executive director of PALS, said the volunteers in attendance have reported great success about the visit. They noted students were especially grateful for the opportunity to connect with the animals.
“What we really look at is that the volunteers and their pets met their mission, which is getting out there and helping the people that are in stress,” said Seboer. “If we get a donation, that’s amazing and it helps us keep going, but what we’re there for is to help people.”
Seboer said PALS volunteers and their animals would love to return to SAIT on a regular basis when possible. The organization is not-for-profit and provides all services free of charge.
“When we were needed the most, that’s when we couldn’t get there,” Seboer said about the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. “But we’re back now, so let’s just keep it going.”