Hundreds of students have flocked to the University of Sheffield’s counselling service (UCS) for some well-deserved puppy therapy in the run up to exam season.
USC welcomed groups of students to meet four specially-trained guide dogs, their handlers and learn about the work of Guide Dogs UK.
One of the dog handlers, Keith Graham, had bought his ten-month-old puppy-in-training Randall to meet the students.
“We’ve got a puppy room which basically is the students coming to meet guide dogs and guide dog puppies,” he said. “It’s a very good thing for the guide dogs, it helps with their socialising but also I think it’s very good for the students because it helps them to just have a little bit of a relaxing session.”
Nicola Bondsall, head of the Sheffield branch of Guide Dogs UK, said they had been bringing dogs to pet therapy sessions for about three years.
“I think we were the first university to set it up. It costs £50k to train a guide dog so it is good for the socialisation of the dog. It is important that they are able to handle crowds.”
While in with the dogs, students could also speak to their handlers and try on specially-adapted glasses that mimic eye conditions that reduce visibility.
Kai Barclay, a 20-year-old Linguistics and Computer Science student was waiting excitedly in the queue. “I’ve worked with service dogs in the past back home in the States. I had to give up my dog before coming here, I needed my dog fix,” she said.
These pet therapy sessions form part of the push for better understanding of mental health at the university. Safina Webb, a university counsellor also runs mindfulness, confidence and social anxiety sessions.
“I think we wanted to reach out to more students within the University,” she said. “I think we noticed a rising anxiety and that we are wanting to put on some fun events that will help students relax around exam periods. Something that will just kind of distract them, something that will calm them.”