K9 companion woofs around Salmon Arm Campus

By Public Affairs | October 1, 2019
           

Woof is a therapy dog that helps students

She’s 107 pounds of loveable fur. At first glance, she looks like a larger-than-average family dog but despite her soft coat and generous licks, there’s no fluff about her.

Meet Woof, Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus therapy dog. Shortly after picking her up as a puppy, owner and College librarian Taryn Schmid discovered that she was completely deaf and suffered from seizures. Daily, social interactions, allowed Woof’s true colours to shine through; she had an affinity towards humans. The nature of her diverse abilities combined with her love for people led Schmid to certify Woof through St. John’s Ambulance.

Introducing Woof to campus in the fall of 2018 came as a natural step for Schmid, but it wasn’t without careful consideration for the campus community.

“I had concerns for people who aren’t into dogs,” says Schmid, “particularly a giant dog, as well as students and staff with allergies and the effect it might have on janitorial staff.”

A soft introduction to campus was the logical conclusion, so she first walked around campus with Woof. The sight of the dog led people to approach her, and opened the door for Schmid to initiate conversation. Those conversations led Schmid to reach out to her colleagues in Counselling and in the Success Centre on campus.

“It’s surprising how a dog opens the door for a variety of conversations,” says Schmid. “Everything from bullying to anxiety issues, to the enjoyment and love of pets.”

“She is extremely well-trained,” says Caroline Chartier, Aboriginal Transitions Planner on the Salmon Arm campus. “She has an innate ability to visit just the right person. Nearly every day it seems we have someone coming to look for her.”

“There’s also been a noticeable increase in students with anxiety issues over the last few years and Woof makes a difference for these students,” adds Schmid.

After no concerns arose in the fall semester, she decided to elevate Woof’s role to an on-demand approach in the spring of 2019. Students could go into the library where Schmid works and book time with Woof, simply to pet, play or hang out with her.

Woof is a stress-relieving point of contact for those who come to see her. Different than a service dog, which provides controlled support to someone with a disability or ailment, Woof offers comfort simply through her gentle nature.

As the spring semester progressed, and no complaints about her presence came up, Schmid made Woof available as much as her job would permit.

“Obviously my job comes first, but I really try to be adaptable,” she says. “Unfortunately there are occasional times when I am just too busy to accommodate a visit.”

Her dedication to supporting students and staff via Woof is apparent. Schmid’s time with Woof on campus comes as a volunteer role and she dreams of Okanagan College one day having a program that sees multiple dogs roaming campuses.

“Taryn is as unique as her intelligent canine and they make a truly remarkable pair,” says Chartier. “Taryn has her own way of taking the angst out of anxiety-stricken students and makes the extra effort to provide Woof’s services to those in need.”

Statistically speaking, Woof saw 45 requests and 237 interactions over the course of the spring semester this past year.

Looking ahead, Schmid anticipates an increase in visits for her furry companion, and wants students and staff to know that Woof is back for the semester and ready for pets, licks, and the odd treat (owner permitting).



Tags: Salmon Arm

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