In 2021 our team published a peer-reviewed commentary in Animals, titled Lessons Learned: Transitioning a Therapy Dog Program Online during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The commentary highlights the lessons our team learned through transitioning a university campus’ therapy dog program from being delivered in-person to a novel online format during the COVID-19 pandemic. By connecting therapy dog teams virtually with program participants, we aimed for participants to continue to experience feelings of love, comfort and support as occurred in in-person programming, and gain knowledge about the best evidence surrounding mental health care during a pandemic. Through a combined process-outcome evaluation and subsequent needs assessment of the online program, and reflecting on our collective experiences, we learned several lessons regarding program personnel needs, therapy dog handler training and support requirements, and online programming prerequisites. These learning experiences continue to inform our current delivery of the program online and are applicable to other programs considering the same.
We undertook a combined process-outcome evaluation followed by a needs assessment over a three-month period (May - July 2020) as we transitioned to an online format. Our first process-outcome questionnaire was designed to assess participant opinion and experiences with the PAWS Your Stress online program. Highlights of our findings are available in an infographic here. Our second needs assessment questionnaire assessed participant needs and preferences regarding program implementation to help inform future programming. An infographic highlighting the results can be found here.
Our team also conducted a process evaluation of the implementation of our online visiting program (September - December, 2020), and key findings included:
The report is available at the bottom of this page and a PDF is available here.
Building upon the process evaluation, an outcome evaluation of the online visiting program (January - April, 2021) was undertaken. Altogether, the findings indicated that attendees of the remote PAWS Your Stress program experienced a variety of benefits from accessing the program. Similar to the findings in the process evaluation (above), attendees were highly appreciative of the program and the animal-handler volunteers. See the full report at the bottom of this page and a PDF here.
An initial evaluation of the in-person PAWS Your Stress program is available:
Dell, C., D. Chalmers, J. Gillett, B. Rohr, C. Nickel, L. Campbell, R. Hanoski, J. Haguerud, A. Husband, C. Stephenson, M. Brydges. 2015. “PAWSing student stress: A Pilot Study of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program on Three Canadian Campuses”. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy. 49:4, pp. 332-359.
ABSTRACT: Student mental health is a concern on university campuses, and animal-assisted interventions are one response. This article presents the immediate and three-month follow-up outcomes of a pilot evaluation study of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program at three Canadian universities. Analyzing a sample of 403 students and 16 handlers/observers at the events and 87 students at follow-up, we found that the therapy dogs offer love and support. Love is understood as having reciprocal love for the dogs and gaining positive feelings from visiting with them. Support is understood as destressing and relaxing by interacting with the dogs. Implications for mental health supports for university students are suggested.
A second study documenting students' experiences of the in-person program is available:
Lalonde, R., C. Dell, T. Claypool. (2020). “PAWS Your Stress: The Student Experience of Therapy Dog Programming”. Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education. 11(2). pp. 78-90.
ABSTRACT: Animal Assisted Activity (AAA) programs have emerged as a popular form of support for students. This study is an in-depth, qualitative examination of the experiences and perspectives of four frequent student participants of an AAA program at a Midwestern Canadian university. Semi-structured interviews resulted in identification of common themes in the student experience. Participants reported that the program provided opportunities to be in-the-moment, facilitated social connections, and complemented existing healthy coping skills. Students also expressed feeling loved, comforted, and supported. Implications and recommendations for AAA programming in a post-secondary setting are discussed.