Therapy dog Anna-Belle will be part of the virtual visits. (Photo: University of Saskatchewan.)

USask unites: Therapy dogs go virtual amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Since the first cases of COVID-19 were announced in the province, members of the USask community have come together to support one another in these uncertain times.

Extraordinary circumstances have brought out extraordinary responses from members of our USask community. From frontline health-care workers to researchers looking for a solution to this global health threat, there are so many stories about people are working to make our home communities safer and healthy. Here are a few of the inspiring stories of our students, staff, faculty and alumni.

The University of Saskatchewan (USask) PAWS Your Stress Therapy Dog program is live online. Students and other members of the community can now connect and receive comfort and support from St. John Ambulance therapy dogs while learning pandemic-specific mental health self-care tips.

“We are all quickly learning that physical distancing doesn’t have to mean we disconnect from supports in our lives, and this includes therapy dogs. We are fortunate to have the technology to take our service online during COVID-19,” said Dr. Colleen Dell (PhD), a professor of sociology in the USask College of Arts and Science and the university’s Research Chair in One Health and Wellness.  

Beginning April 20 and until the end of July 2020, PAWS Your Stress events will take place at least twice a week online for USask students and for the greater Saskatchewan community. The 10-minute Facebook Live events will feature a therapy dog doing an everyday healthy activity, such as going for a walk or grooming.   

As another creative response, the program has partnered with Scholastic Canada for online readings of favourite children's books. In-training, current and retired campus therapy dog teams will be featured during the book-reading sessions of a specially selected book. Again, a linkage to keeping healthy during the pandemic will be featured. 

“The therapy dog teams care deeply about the well-being of students, staff and faculty on our campus and the people of Saskatchewan. We hope these virtual visits will be helpful to a lot of people who are isolated right now – kids, youth, seniors and adults,” said Dell. 

Zaphod, a Great Pyrenees therapy dog, and his handler Tonya will do the first online therapy dog visit Tuesday, April 21 at 1 pm. They will use Facebook Live (@PAWSYourStress), and afterwards the recorded video will be linked to additional social media platforms, including Instagram (@pawsyourstress), Twitter (@PawsStress) and YouTube (PAWSYourStress).   

Funding for the online program is provided by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation’s (SHRF) Research Connections COVID-19 Rapid Response Program and the Research Chair in One Health and Wellness. 

Find out more about Paws Your Stress here: https://therapydogs.ca/  

Share your stories with us: We are collecting the stories of resilience and good spirit from our USask community. Please send story ideas and photos to news@usask.ca.

As a community it is critical that we support each other and remain respectful during what is a difficult time for all of us. Please follow all guidelines and take all precautions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in our community.

How you can help our students during the COVID-19 pandemic: https://alumni.usask.ca/news/2020/covid-19-how-you-can-help-our-students.php

For the latest developments and information about the University of Saskatchewan's response to COVID-19, please go to www.usask.ca/updates.

The University of Saskatchewan is undertaking critical research and contributing to global efforts to combat COVID-19. The University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO-InterVac) is a world leader in developing vaccines and technologies to combat infectious diseases. Your support of the COVID-19 Research Fund supports the increased efforts of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Donate now.

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