By Ellen Tsaprailis

In mere days as a result of the pandemic, Carleton University’s campus was emptied of students, faculty, staff and, well, dogs.

Carleton’s Therapy Dogs are no longer able to physically engage with students. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t around.

Thanks to their Instagram page, the dogs are now offering virtual joy to their fans.

With more than 2,600 followers, @cutherapydog is posting live video streams and followers can set their notifications on to let them know when one of the dogs is on live on the story feature. The team is aiming for three to five live sessions each week.

Carleton University Therapy Dogs Offering Virtual Cheer on InstagramProgram lead Shannon Noonan decided to host virtual sessions in response to a flood of messages she received through the Instagram account and by email.

“The advantage we have using the technology is that a person does not have to be sitting watching live,” says Noonan. “They can enjoy it at anytime after we post for 24 hours, so there’s no worries there. Those who are lucky to be online when it goes live only adds to the excitement, and they begin messaging their friends when we go live.”

Gillian Cook, a second-year student who moved out of residence and returned to her home on the outskirts of Erin, Ont., to finish the semester, loves the live sessions.

“The therapy dogs have been an incredible support for me throughout my time at Carleton, so I was very happy to learn that they would be doing virtual office hours that allow students to interact with them,” says Cook.

“As somebody who frequents the dogs, the videos provide a sense of familiarity to this unprecedented situation. I also love how the videos can be watched later if you miss them.”

A Therapy Dog sits next to the words Wash Your Paws spelled out using dog food

Keeping the Tradition Going

Second-year Journalism student Miranda Caley has her notifications turned on for @cutherapydog and was surprised to get a notice that the account was going live.

“I hopped on and saw Elroy covered in stuffed animals and thought it was the cutest thing,’’ says Caley. “I thought it was a really great idea to keep the weekly therapy dog tradition going while still practising social distancing.”

Assistant Registrar Karla Creech is Bauer’s owner and while she’s currently on maternity leave, she eagerly signed on to take live videos.

“When I began this program, I was blown away by how amazing it is. The students love this program and truly some of them need it and base their days around getting to see the dogs,” says Creech.

“At Bauer’s last session in December before my maternity leave, one of the students said: `What am I going to do without him here?’ It really struck my heart. I know he is my personal dog, but now he is truly a part of the Carleton community and I realized that some of his regular visitors were genuinely going to miss him.”

“If putting my dog on camera for a little bit can bring a smile to even one student’s face, its all worth it,” says Creech. “Some of our students are so connected to these dogs that just seeing their faces can lift their spirits and, in a time like this, we all need a little spirit lifting!

Carleton Therapy Dog Moose

Student Services Staff Joining Sessions

Moose’s owner, Tracey Saxton, is a financial aid administrator and was eager to join in after hearing about the concept from Noonan.

“This is the prime situation where the therapy dog program provides a break from the stress and anxiety being felt by everyone; students and the dogs handlers included,” says Saxton.

“Moose participated in his first Instagram Live and it was truly amazing and refreshing. I was unsure of what to expect, but the moment we signed on the engagement was overwhelming. We received many comments of: `this is just what I needed right now,’ and `please keep doing this.’

“When we finished the session, I myself felt a sense of rejuvenation. I hope by continuing to do these videos, we can bring a sense of normalcy to this unusual situation we all find ourselves in.”

Starting April 6, new elements will be added to the Instagram Live Stories as Student Services staff join the dogs during their live sessions. Followers will see a split screen with our canine friends romping around while staff answer questions posed from viewers and provide general information.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 in , ,
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