By: Megan Vukelic
This Welcome Week, McMaster welcomed more than just first-year students. Scout, a one-year-old border collie, is the newest addition to campus as part of a partnership between the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA.
Scout is currently going through therapy dog assessment administered by the SPCA. The goals of the program are threefold: helping students de-stress by interacting with Scout, promoting services offered to social science students, and bridging the gap between students and faculty.
The program has stemmed from a pilot study led by James Gillett from the department of Health, Aging and Society, which focuses on the nature of bonds between humans and animals.
Gillett describes Scout as a canine ambassador for the faculty. While McMaster has had therapy dogs in residence as well as Mills Library in the past, Scout will be social science centric.
“In the residences there is not as much access to everyone,” said Gillett. “This program will make the services available to all social science students.”
However, Scout is more than just a therapy dog. “The program is not exclusively for mental health. We are trying to do both – help students deal with the stresses of campus but also give them tools for success.”
He explains that often students that need academic and personal services the most are also the most reluctant. Having therapy dogs available will make these programs more accessible and make students more likely to feel comfortable to pursue them.
Similar programs have been implemented in universities across Canada. At the University of Alberta, students are able to take registered therapy dogs for walks around the community. At the University of Saskatchewan, professors with their own therapy dogs have been bringing them to campus as part of an initiative to foster connections between faculty and students.
Therapy dogs on campus have helped reduce the fear that some students have when approaching professors or faculty. Gillett expressed his intentions of incorporating such techniques into the program at McMaster in the future, in order to foster greater community within the social science department and improve student experience.
Students in the Faculty of Social Sciences have been overwhelmingly supportive of the program, recognizing the benefits for students. Daniel D’Angela, Welcome Week planner for Social Sciences, expressed his support of the program after meeting scout at Faculty Day while he greeted incoming students.
“The SPCA dog program is a great way to provide opportunities for students to de-stress with the added bonus of promoting resources that the University provides,” he said. It is the intention of the program that Scout will have more of a full time presence at McMaster in the following school year once he has completed the therapy dog program, and will hopefully be accompanied by more furry friends.