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Therapy dogs a welcome distraction for students

Orillia Secondary School students arrange to bring in therapy dogs as part of class project

MJ Préfontaine doesn’t remember much about her stay at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children last year, but she remembers the dog.

The Orillia Secondary School student said her interaction with a therapy dog at the hospital “had a positive impact” on her during a difficult time.

When she and fellow student Chloe Smith teamed up for a project as part of their Grade 11 gym class, with the goal of hosting a wellness-related event during the lunch hour, Préfontaine again remembered that dog.

On Thursday, she arranged to have St. John Ambulance therapy dogs come to the school. It was part of what was dubbed OSS LIT (lunch inclusive time).

“We decided we wanted to do something about mental and physical health,” Préfontaine said.

“It affects everyone,” Smith added, referring to mental health. “Some of them just don’t want to talk about it. We want this to help them feel comfortable talking about it.”

In addition to the visiting dogs, they set up an information board near the front entrance, encouraging healthy and active living. Naturally, though, the dogs stole the show. That didn’t surprise Ronda Forsyth, a handler for one of the dogs.

Therapy dogs, she noted, are taken to colleges and universities, hospitals, high schools, long-term-care residences and many other places. Forsyth watches a bond build between students and dogs upon repeat visits.

“At that point, I know the dogs make a difference in kids’ mental health,” she said.

The dogs were a welcome sight for students, who are nearing the end of the first semester.

“We’re here for stress relief,” said handler Bob Johnson.

It seems to work wherever the dogs go. The reaction is the same whether they’re at a hospital or a high school.

“In one word: smiles,” Johnson said with a smile of his own.


Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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