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Four-legged friends at University of Pretoria to put smiles on faces of students

Ane Roets and Richard Lupankwa making friends with a therapy dog. Picture: Supplied

Ane Roets and Richard Lupankwa making friends with a therapy dog. Picture: Supplied

Published May 29, 2023


Pretoria - Last week once again saw the University of Pretoria library bringing man’s furry four-legged friends to the Hatfield campus to rub shoulders with the students.

The university’s library services in collaboration with the largest dog therapy organisation in Gauteng, Top Dogs, on Thursday brought therapy dogs on to the campus to provide animal-assisted therapy to students who needed a little love from the trained dogs.

Research indicates that human-animal interaction has a relaxing and stress-reduction effect even after as little as five minutes of interaction with a therapy dog.

Although animal-assisted therapy is mainly used in health care and elderly care settings, more and more modern international academic and public libraries use therapy dogs as a way of engaging student interaction.

Pumela Khumalo makes the most of hugging a new friend. Picture: Supplied

This rewarding programme is the brainchild of librarian Elsabé Olivier, who started the project in 2019 with Top Dogs. The aim at the time was to provide animal-assisted therapy to students who were about to begin their exams the following week.

Speaking to Pretoria News about the programme, Olivier said it had been such a success that they were continuing to provide this service.

She said this had brought the emotional well-being of their students during exam time to a whole new level.

“Extensive research supports the notion that human-animal interaction has a remarkable ability to promote relaxation and reduce stress levels in individuals,” said Olivier, the assistant director of marketing and quality assurance at the library services.

As a proud dog owner herself, she understands first-hand the immense joy and positivity that comes from interacting with pets.

Through this initiative, her goal is to alleviate the stress that students commonly experience leading up to their exams.

“The response from the students and staff members has exceeded all expectations. The moment the therapy dogs set foot on campus, students are immediately drawn to them, forming a cheerful gathering around these furry companions.”

Elsabé Olivier and Alta Rossouw, organisers of the dogs meet-and-greet. Picture: Supplied

Olivier said the act of petting and embracing the therapy dogs brings smiles to everyone’s faces. “The overwhelming enthusiasm expressed by students and staff members has been truly heart-warming.

“Follow-up surveys conducted after the sessions serve as a testament to the immense joy and happiness that the dogs have brought to the campus community.”

She said the Department of Library Services is committed to hosting more of these therapy sessions, especially during the mid-year and end-of-year exam periods.

While Top Dogs sometimes visit the Groenkloof and Prinshof campuses, the majority of the sessions are hosted on the larger Hatfield campus. On the day of the visit, the handlers, accompanied by their carefully selected and fully trained dogs, arrive at the campus.

“It is essential to note that these dogs play a crucial role in providing emotional support to individuals. They possess a calm, friendly demeanour and impeccable manners.”

Olivier explained that the dogs and their handlers settle comfortably on the lawns outside the libraries, where students have the opportunity to interact with them in an informal setting.

The session only lasts an hour, to ensure that the dogs are not overwhelmed.

Olivier has conducted three sessions this month and more sessions are planned for later in the year.

Primarily attended by undergraduate students, 97% of participants reported a reduction in their stress levels, while 81% indicated that interacting with the therapy dogs positively enhanced their emotional well-being. A further 83% stated that the interaction with the dogs helped calm them down during these sessions.

Pretoria News