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St. Bernard helps high school students manage stress

Students in Orléans coping with stress and anxiety are getting weekly therapy from a unique volunteer: a three-year-old St. Bernard named Rufus.

Rufus, 3, visits students at Centre Ado du Millénium once a week

Rufus has become a source of comfort and company for students at Centre Ado du Millénium in Orléans. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Students in Orléans coping with stress and anxiety are getting weekly therapy from a unique volunteer: a three-year-old St. Bernard named Rufus.

The big canine is the first therapy dog to participate in a volunteer mental health program run out of the Centre Ado du Millénium, organized by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

"I believe he senses who needs that little extra some days," said the dog's owner, Doreen Doré, who brings the dog in once a week.

The burly breed of St. Bernard's have historically been associated with stories of alpine rescues, but Rufus is brought in less for his size than his social skills.

'He's so innocent and trusting'

"It's the highlight of my week, every week," said student Renée Ketcheson.

"I struggle a lot with depression, anxiety and a lot of other stuff mental illness-wise. Being with Rufus, it lets me be vulnerable [and] open up to him."

Once a week Doreen Dore brings Rufus to hang out with students at Centre Ado du Millénium. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Ketcheson says she is able to connect with the dog in a special way. "He's so innocent and trusting. It's easier to open up to a dog than it is to a person," she said.

"For the rest of the day I'm super happy and I feel like I'm walking on air."

'I wish I could have had Rufus back then'

The CHEO program helps teens at Centre Ado du Millénium, who suffer with mental health issues, transition back into full-time school.

Doré said she also struggles with mental health issues and understands what some of the students are facing.

"I have clinical depression so I can relate to being a teenager with depression," she said. "I wish I could have had Rufus back then."

Doré said watching her dog interact with students today is deeply gratifying.

"It just feels so good that some good is coming out of this world," she said.

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