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Wagging tails make students’ day at UVic emotional support pet cafe

Weekly cafe session hosts around 80-100 people

The tails were wagging during the University of Victoria’s first Pet Cafe of the year, giving anxious students, staff and the public some much-needed emotional support.

Ruth Dantzer, UVic’s Anglican Spiritual care provider, came up with the idea eight years ago as she hoped to draw large amounts of students to an event that would be helpful for their wellness and mental health.

“I was trying to think out of the box, trying to think creatively,” said Dantzer.

The response was more extensive than what she had initially anticipated, with the weekly cafe session hosting between 80 and 100 people. That number explodes in the summer when over 1,000 individuals will show up.

“I often bring baby goats from Beacon Hill petting zoo in the spring. So students will just be everywhere.”

The Pet Cafe also doubles as a way for Dantzer to try and connect with students on a spiritual level and explore the benefits of religion and faith more gently.

“It was bringing in all these students that normally wouldn’t set foot in the Multi-faith Center. And then they would have conversations with spiritual care providers.”

Dantzer teams up with the Pacific Animal Therapy Society (PATS), which will connect therapy dogs with hospitals, hospices, retirement homes and emotionally vulnerable people anywhere.

Trina Gendall, interim president of PATS, trains the dogs to be as calm as possible. She was at the Pet Cafe with her 17-month-old golden retriever, Forrest, who arrived before students started to show up.

“We specifically knew we wanted to do this work because our previous one did it for five years. We lost him a year ago. So that was heartbreaking,” Gendall said.

The dogs will soak in the excitement, and often, the pups will have four to five students crowing around them for a cuddle, the dog trainer said.

“This guy’s doing really well. And so he quite likes being here. He loves interacting,” she said.

The animals’ calming effect was almost instant, as nearly 150 students packed into the Multi-faith Centre, with some students needing a few moments to connect. In contrast, others like UVic student AJ Wasserman have forged a deeper connection.

Wasserman had formed a friendly relationship with Piper, a six-year-old Australian labradoodle and her owner, Gary Walmsley, and will welcome a dog from the same breeder Walmsley got his dog from.

The pair are working together to find the right dog that will support Wasserman through his/her/their emotional journal.

“I was supposed to get her last week, but there was that snowstorm. So I’m going to try and get them this weekend.”

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