Interfaith Chapel holds a weekly Pet Café to help students cope with academic demands
Written by: Kati Engholm
Ruth Dantzer, the Anglican Chaplain in Multifaith Services at the University of Victoria holds a Pet Café every Wednesday afternoon, with registered therapy dogs, which aids students in reducing stress and anxiety as exam season looms.
Located in the Interfaith Chapel on the UVic campus, adjacent to Finnerty Gardens, this drop-in program is held while school is in session, on Wednesdays from 2:30pm-4pm. The Pet Café welcomes all community members and offers creature comforts from home: tea and coffee, cookies, friendly faces, and numerous animals to cuddle.
“There is no specific programming involved in the sessions, so people are free to do whatever speaks to them, whether that is to socialize with the animals, other people, or simply hang out and relax,” said Ruth Dantzer, Anglican Chaplain at the Interfaith Chapel and organizer of the Pet Café. “I am trying to create a café-like atmosphere or a ‘third space’ here at the chapel, where the community feels invited, welcome, and supported.”
All animals are certified with either the Pacific Animal Therapy Society (PATS) or the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program. These two organizations alternate weeks of service, with teams consisting of pet and their supervising owner. Every week there is a minimum of five teams present, often including a beloved cat named Mandy, Dantzer said.
Students are bombarded with stressors over the course of the academic year: being away from home for an extended amount of time, academic deadlines, time commitment pressures, and monetary limitations.
“The presence of animals provides an effective gateway into meaningful connection for most people,” said Dantzer. “The Pet Café is a safe space for people to be mindful of all the feelings they are carrying with them, and hopefully, it provides them an opportunity to release some of the weight that comes with student life.”
Kelsey Kotzian, a third-year student majoring in Child and Youth Care and a weekly Pet Café volunteer agreed.
“People who come, you can tell that they are tired, exhausted, mentally and physically drained,” she said. “For that 10 minutes that they are sitting there, and the dog is focussing all their attention on them, you can see them light up.”
The Pet Café provides a bustling haven of conversation, connection, and an escape for students feeling the added stress of exams and assignments.
“I am a firm believer in animals as a therapy, and animals as support systems and attachment figures for everybody, and the healing power that can come through them,” Kotzian said.
Many students leave their childhood homes, and pets, to attend university classes in another town, province, or country. The Pet Café provides the comfort of a friendly snuggle or lick to someone who is missing their own family pet.
“Everybody when they come here, they have big beaming smiles on their faces,” Kotzian said. “Students come for the dogs and I think they stay for a mixture of dogs and the tea.”
|Ruth Dantzer||[email protected]||250-721-8338||Anglican Chaplain|
|Kelsey Kotzian||[email protected]||250-328-2445||Student, Child and Youth Care, Volunteer at the Pet Café|
Printed Source Material
Goldring, Michelle A. “Cycling through the Blues: The Impact of Systemic External Stressors on Student Mental States and Symptoms of Depression.” College Student Journal, vol. 46, no. 3, 2012, pp. 680.
Hutchins, Aaron. “Are universities doing enough to support mental health?” MacLean’s Magazine. April 20th, 2017.
Skewchuk, Chris. “Therapy dogs: Program brings comfort and joy to residents and patients.” Island Health Magazine, Vol. Winter 2017, pg. 9-11.