Photo via loyalistcollege.com.
By Dylan O’Hagan 
BELLEVILLE – More than just a furry friend, the St. John therapy dogs help Loyalist College students relax during stressful school days.
But what is a therapy dog, and what are they exactly for? According to the Canadian Service Dog Foundation  website, “they are social interactive dogs trained to provide service and comfort to other people.” Therapy dogs can be used to improve moral, act as a motivator for therapy and can offer a break from anything school-related. The dogs must be confident and friendly, open to social interaction with people and gentle in every situation.
Loyalist College introduced this concept of therapy dogs during last year’s winter exam period as a stress-management option for students. Since then, the therapy dogs have been visiting once a month and they make extra visits during stressful times for students.
Loyalist College’s Mind and Wellness Practitioner, Sarah Michelle Ogden, helps run the therapy dog program. She says the reception of the therapy dogs has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I have had students share with me that they felt more focused and relaxed for their exam when they visited the dogs before an exam. Students have also told me they felt happier, with improved mood during and after visiting with the dogs. Some students who are living away from home, also shared that it helped them not to miss their own pets so much, because they were able to access the unconditional love and affection of a pet on campus,” wrote Ogden in an email to QNet News.
There is even scientific evidence supporting the benefits of the therapy dogs. A 2013 study 
shows that pet therapy increases endorphins in the brain and decreases blood pressure.
The therapy dog program is volunteer-based. Owners bring their dogs to the school to share their beloved pets with the students.
“The St. John Ambulance Quinte Therapy Dog Program (where our dogs come from) is made up of wonderful volunteers who donate their time and energy to brighten the days of those they visit with their dogs. I want to make sure that everyone knows this is a volunteer-driven program. I am truly grateful that we have the program in our area and I want to thank all of the handlers and their amazing dogs! They have become a part of our Loyalist College family,” Ogden wrote.
To become a therapy dog volunteer 
you must fill out an online application and meet a certain criteria. You must be at least 18, complete a criminal record check and successfully participate in an evaluation.
If you missed this week’s visit from the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs, don’t worry as they will be back on campus on Dec. 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the gymnasium.