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How furry pals at MacEwan University are reducing student stress

Pets Assisting With Student Success (PAWSS) uses pets to alleviate stress for MacEwan University students. Since it launched in 2017, has become very popular — last semester they recorded 3,600 visits.

'A lot of students will smile when they see the dogs and tell me it's the best day ever'

PAWSS dog Grace prepares to visit with students on campus at MacEwan University. (Chris Martin/CBC)

A program at MacEwan University is helping students who are having a ruff day.

Pets Assisting With Student Success (PAWSS) offers pets to help alleviate stress and since it launched in 2017, has become popular among students. Last semester the program recorded 3,600 visits. 

"It does make a difference to students quality of life and changes the culture of the university environments. It's more calm ... it improves classroom culture," said Andrea Chute, associate professor of nursing and co-founder of the program. 

The program offers a wide variety of dogs and a couple of cats. 

While dogs visiting schools isn't necessarily unique, MacEwan's homegrown program stands out from the pack.  

"Most of the programs at different universities only have the dogs come in for an hour at a time. Ours are here all the time," Chute said.

The dogs aren't service dogs, but are evaluated by professionals to ensure they are well-suited to the wellness program.  

Chute is hoping the program will inspire other universities to offer similar initiatives. She is headed to the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) conference in New Orleans this weekend to talk about the benefits of PAWSS. 

They've already had success broadening the initiative locally, with PAWSS programs at Vimy Ridge Academy, Lillian Osborne High School and Grovenor School. Dogs will soon be visiting NAIT and NorQuest as well. 

Watch the PAWSS program in action: 

A university program uses certified wellness dogs to help relieve student stress. 1:28

Chute and her colleagues are also studying the interactions between the animals and MacEwan students. They measure momentary stress ratings, and found that before students went in to visit the dogs, they rated their stress level six out of 10.

After cuddling and petting the furry volunteers, students rated their stress level again and it was cut in half. 

"It is subjective, but if it's meaningful for whoever is interacting with the dogs then that's meaningful for them," Chute said.

Mackenzie Moody, a nursing student and PAWSS volunteer, said students often message her asking when she'll be on campus with her dog, Aza. 

"Being able to bring her to campus gives me more of a feeling of purpose. Seeing her bring the happiness to them that she does to me, it's beneficial — it's very heartwarming," Moody said. 

This semester's PAWSS program begins on Jan. 24 and Chute is excited for it to continue. 

"A lot of students will smile when they see the dogs and tell me it's the best day ever. It just brightens everyone's day," she said.

With files from Chris Martin

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