York University student Devon MacPherson wasn’t alone when she crossed the convocation stage Tuesday morning to receive her diploma. Barkley, her mental health service dog, shared the limelight in his own gown and cap.
MacPherson is an excellent example of student success and York University’s commitment to mental health. After taking some time off, MacPherson came to York University for another crack at postsecondary education. This time it worked.
Diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder, MacPherson credits her dog, a white Standard Poodle, with helping her complete her degree and York University for creating a supportive environment. She received her degree in independent studies with a focus in the human/animal bond and communication studies at York University’s spring convocation ceremony Tuesday.
“For people with anxiety, changes in the environment or doing things differently can be shocking. When I have Barkley with me, it’s something that’s consistent no matter where I go,” says MacPherson. Barkley accompanied MacPherson to all her university classes.
“But he can also warn me when my anxiety is going to rise,” she says. Barkley can smell an increase in the hormone oxytocin and gives MacPherson a nudge to let her know.
MacPherson is a vocal mental health advocate on campus and in the broader community and is calling for a national policy on service dogs, especially those used for mental health, to create consistency in training and standards across the country.
Her undergraduate thesis focused on the benefit of service animals in human mental health, including veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. MacPherson realizes more research is needed to help increase awareness of service dogs for mental health and to reduce the associated stigma and barriers.
She will be back at York University in the fall to work on a master’s degree in critical disability studies to continue her service dog research.