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Cuddle time: Adorable puppies help fight the wintertime blues away

Vancouver trending: Puppy therapy is becoming a popular way to help students cope with stress

A posse of PADS therapy dogs. Studies have shown that dogs have a strong impact on mental and physical health, including lowering cortisol and increasing serotonin.

Courtesy PADS

A posse of PADS therapy dogs. Studies have shown that dogs have a strong impact on mental and physical health, including lowering cortisol and increasing serotonin.

On these dark, rain-soaked days, as deadlines and exams pile up, the life of a student may seem almost unbearable. With little time for self-care, Vancouver college and university students are often overwhelmed and under-slept. That's where the puppies come in.

Puppy therapy, long a staple in hospices and hospitals, is becoming an increasingly popular way to help students cope with stress. Line-ups for on-campus puppy rooms often go out the door. Petting and snuggling with a friendly canine is often the quickest fix for stress, loneliness and anxiety.

Numerous studies have shown that dogs have a strong impact on mental and physical health. As Tara Doherty, communication manager for PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society), noted, "Dogs have an extremely tangible effect on stress levels, including lowering cortisol and increasing serotonin."

PADS, which raises, trains and supports certified assistance dogs, connecting them to those living with disabilities as well as community health workers, is just one of the local organizations offering puppy therapy.

Their biggest need, according to Doherty, is to find puppy raisers who are wiling to "attend events, and take the dogs out into the community, no experience necessary."

After the success of PADS's initial puppy therapy sessions at SFU, they have since offered their program to BCIT, Douglas College Columbia College, and numerous smaller colleges. The program has " taken on a life of its own," said Doherty, offering exposure, and "great socialization for the dogs."

With her own daughter at university now, Doherty recognizes how stressful it is to be a student. What's important, she said, is to "support young people during a challenging part of their lives."  She remembers choking up after overhearing a puppy therapy participant saying that it was the best day of her whole year.

Warning: Cuteness overload!

Courtesy PADS

Warning: Cuteness overload!

UBC has hosted several puppy therapy sessions. This fall, partnering with Vancouver ecoVillage which has an intensive therapy-dog training program, the department of psychology and  the UBC Alma Mater Society will offer students a chance to experience the healing powers of dogs.

At UBC's Okanagan campus, B.A.R.K. (Building Academic Retention Through K-9's) now in its fifth year, "serves to reduce stress and homesickness by providing students access to therapy dogs," said director Dr. John Tyler Binfet. B.A.R.K  offers a drop-in program with 15-17 dogs a session, a weekly BARK2GO program with dogs stationed around campus, and a Wag and Walk program encouraging students to take a therapy dog for a walk around campus.

B.A.R.K. not only serves as a community service but also as a research hub.

In addition to Binfet's studies on the effect of canine therapy on student well being, undergraduate and graduate students conduct lab research. One student recently completed a study examining bonding between dogs and children with autism spectrum disorder. B.A.R.K. research has also found " significant reductions in students' self-reports of homesickness and stress stemming from spending time with therapy dogs," said Binfet.

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