Red River College brought in a troupe of tail-wagging, panting and wiggling support staff on Wednesday in a bid to raise awareness about student mental health.

About a half a dozen therapy dogs were brought to the college’s downtown campus as part of Mind It, an event that focuses on how students cope with the stresses and anxieties of student life.

The event is the brainchild of Meghan Franklin, a communications student at the college.

Halo the therapy dog

Halo, a therapy dog, visited the Red River College campus on Wednesday as part of a mental health awareness event, dubbed Mind It, at the school. (Meagan Fiddler/CBC)

“It is stressful just with all the assignments. Some people have part-time jobs. Some people are living away from home for the first time,” she said.

Laureen Janzen, the college’s coordinator of counseling services, said the number of students reporting mental health issues at the college has grown by 50 per cent in the last five years.

“Maybe that number has grown in terms of what’s being presented to us, but maybe students have been struggling all along and maybe they’re OK now with reaching out,” said Janzen.

In response to the growing need, Mind It has hosted a number of events on campus to help reduce student stress.

“The Canadian Mental Health Association donated 100 canvases and paint,” she said. “We just invited students to come and distress and do an activity that they probably haven’t done in years.”

Shad said the painting and therapy dog events are designed for students to stop in quickly and get on with their day.

“I think it’s really good. I was saying we should have stress-relief dogs around exam time! That would be awesome!” said student Shawnee Davis.

Janie Law is a therapy dog handler with St. John’s Ambulance. She said the therapy dogs can be easier for a student to immediately connect with, rather than talking to a stranger.

“They don’t care about what you look like – if you brushed your hair or if you’re wearing the highest fashion. All they care about is you,” said Law.

The college isn’t the first to bring dogs to campus in an effort to help students de-stress. The University of Manitoba had therapy dogs visit their Fort Garry campus in April of this year, in advance of their exam period.