“D” the therapy dog spreads a little puppy love

Melissa Marie Legge with her St. John Ambulance trained therapy dog "D" in Vari Hall

With exams looming, many York students will feel the stress of studying, but a little puppy love can go a long way toward alleviating that anxiety.

“D”, a St. John Ambulance therapy dog who loves people, especially those obliging enough to rub her tummy, was in Vari Melissa Marie Legge with her St. John Ambulance trained therapy dog "D" in Vari HallHall yesterday to help students de-stress. She will be back in Vari Hall Dec. 6 and 11, from 1 to 2pm.

There was no shortage of those willing to scratch behind the ears, pat the head and talk sweetly to this retired greyhound race dog, and D took it all in stride – or, rather, lying down on her soft cushion.

Melissa Marie Legge with her St. John Ambulance trained therapy dog “D” in Vari Hall

“She is a huge suck for attention,” says her owner Melissa Marie Legge, a social worker in York Region.

Legge calls her D – short for Dinner Date, her former racing name. This four-year-old black rescue dog was only in nine races in Miami, Fla., before being retired, but apparently she won quite a few of those. In the 18 months since Legge adopted her, D’s life has been much different. Instead of sprinting around tracks, D and Legge visit homeless shelters, hospitals and nursing homes – first in Nova Scotia and now in Ontario, where they recently moved.

“You can see people visibly react when she walks in a room, especially in places where pets are not allowed,” says Legge. “It’s amazing how people in dire circumstances will jump for joy when they see D. It’s a pretty cool thing.”

Lluvia Machuca Ruelas, a peer educator with the Centre for Human Rights Diversity Peer Education Team (DPET) and coordinator of the York Federation of Students’ Access Centre, thought having a dog on campus again this term, during the exam period, would be helpful. Enzo the dog, also trained through St. John Ambulance, was at York earlier in the year.

Students take a break from studying to give a little affection to “D” the therapy dog

“It helps get you out of the loop of anxiety and stress,” says Machuca Ruelas, who is studying history and politics in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

Having a therapy dog on campus is part of the Access Centre’s contribution to the mental health campaign – Let’s Talk YU – organized by the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development during the first two weeks of November.

“We felt we should continue with this momentum because as students ourselves, we know how overwhelming it gets,” says Margaret Macharia, an economics student who is also a peer educator with the DPET. “I mean, who doesn’t want to pat a fluffy dog, especially during this critical time with exams and all.”

The Access Centre also used it as an opportunity to hand out resources to students on coping with stress and anxiety, as well as de-stressing techniques. “Generally we have found it’s always nice to talk to people and ask them how they are doing – I mean really doing,” says Macharia. “And during tabling, which DPET does every Wednesday in Vari Hall, we try to engage folks as much as possible.”

According to the St. John Ambulance website, “visits from therapy dogs help people recover more quickly from surgery and strokes, and can reduce feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”