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Friendly dog crew brings stress relief to N.B. hospitals, nursing homes, universities

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The friendly trio of Rowdy, Ketu, and Bo get the same reaction wherever they go: undivided attention and affection.

They’re part of a travelling group of local dogs in the Fredericton-area, who, alongside their owners, make regular visits to university students, hospital patients, and nursing home residents.

“It’s amazing how it can put smiles on people’s faces that maybe are having a bad day,” said Sue Wishart of the River Valley Obedience Club & Field Trial Club, where the dogs are trained and certified. “Sometimes there are dogs that can really detect somebody that’s having a really bad day.”

Wishart said dogs who participate in the regular meet-and-greet events are tested beforehand for behaviour around loud noises, large crowds, and new people.

“The dogs have to know how to ‘leave it,’ especially in the seniors’ facilities where we go, because there could be food or medications on the floor,” said Wishart.

What was initially scheduled as an end-of-semester visit at St. Thomas University (STU) has become a monthly event, and several students are repeat attendees.

“They’re so well behaved,” said Avery Morton, a STU student. “They really do lower your stress levels and they’re so joyful.”

The university’s mental health coordinator said the regular events create an opportunity to share additional information about other mental health resources available on campus.

“It’s also great for students experiencing homesickness and who are away from their parents, or their pets, to have a chance to reconnect with animals,” said Brittany Sprague, STU’s mental health coordinator.

Taylor Watson, a STU student, says Thursday’s event was her third time visiting Rowdy, Ketu, and Bo in recent months. Watson said the visits reminded her of her own pets back home in Saint John.

“An animal is a big support system and it’s a big part of our lives,” said Watson. “So it’s really important to have them here.”

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