Meet the big dog on campus

A new set of paws have started padding their way through the halls of Yukon College this year. Allegra, an eight-month-old British golden retriever, is the second dog to be hired by the college.

A new set of paws have started padding their way through the halls of Yukon College this year.

Allegra, an eight-month-old British golden retriever, is the second dog to be hired by the college to offer animal-assisted therapy to students.

Alongside counsellor Angela Neufeld she’s available once a week for a cuddle or a comforting pat.

“As research indicates, for many people just being able to pet a dog can reduce the heart rate, reduce respirations and help slow down the nervous system,” she said.

Allegra started this September making classroom visits and helping out in Neufeld’s sessions.

With her on the scene, the college has doubled the number of dogs on campus.

Neufeld’s other pup, Magnus, was the college’s inaugural therapy dog when he started about two years ago.

Magnus isn’t going anywhere, Neufeld said. But with Allegra on the job there will dogs available twice a week.

“We love Magnus, and I was curious to see what would happen to have a second option… potentially one that would turn out to have a different personality.”

The two are definitely different.

Even as a puppy Magnus was a mellow guy, she said. Allegra is a little more lively.

“She wants to kind of get right in there. She’ll get on people’s laps and stuff if they let her. Whereas Magnus is very respectful and just kind of sits back,” Neufeld said.

“If they’re not interested he’ll just go to sleep. She’s a little bit more like, no, you’ve got to pay attention to me.”

Two personalities can be useful depending on what kind of situation you’re dealing with, she said.

Magnus has been known to help people who want to conquer their fear of dogs and is perfectly happy to hang out with a group of kids from the daycare.

Sometimes a more cuddly dog is what’s called for.

“Certainly boundary issues are something that we talk about a lot in counselling sessions and what is it like not just to set boundaries for a person but what about this dog that now is trying to get in your face,” Neufeld said.

“That can kind of mirror things that happen in people’s lives.”

Using the dogs as a way in for people to talk about their situation is helpful, she said.

“That can sometimes be what sort of softens that first contact or makes it a little bit easier. Sometimes the dog, they do the work for me a little bit.”

Since Magnus arrived Neufeld has seen students try out counselling because of the dog.

“Maybe they’re a dog person or maybe that just makes the whole thing seem a little bit less intimidating.”

Twenty-eight students participated in formal sessions with Magnus last year.

That doesn’t include the people he met visiting in classes, in the halls or in campus housing.

According to the college 143 students sought out counselling help for personal or mental health issues in the 2014/15 academic year. That’s a big bump from the 84 who used the services in 2012/13.

When Neufeld first brought Magnus to school she assumed most of his impact would happen inside her office.

But a dog “changes the energy in the building” just by walking down the hall and greeting people, she said.

“What you see more of is just the impact of having him on campus, like just walking through the halls, the number of staff that come visit with him. Even students who don’t come to counselling are happy to see him.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at