The benefits of animal therapy are well-known and a Victoria non-profit is all about spreading the love.
“It’s amazing to see all of these volunteers as part of this grass root effort,” says Pacific Animal Therapy Society president Clementine Hiltner.
Volunteers with the Pacific Animal Therapy Society (PATS) have been making a difference in our community for more than three decades and after a COVID shutdown, they’re back at the University of Victoria’s popular pet cafe, helping to calm stressed-out students.
“We’ve got all shapes and sizes and they’re all very friendly and sweet,” Hiltner explains. “I think the students get a lot out of it. They’re all away from home, it’s a very stressful time.”
PATS volunteers have been coming to the pet cafe, in partnership with UVic’s Multifaith Centre, the Anglican Diocese of B.C. and St. John’s Ambulance, for the last five years.
“It’s been fabulous to be up here at UVic and meet all these lovely young people who are away from home and studying and on the precipice of all kinds of greatness,” says PATS volunteer Jenni Aitkin.
The UVic Pet cafe was founded by Rev. Ruth Dantzer, the Anglican spiritual care provider for student wellness at the university, and the Anglican Diocese of B.C. provides funding for it.
“I wanted to create space for community building,” says Rev. Dantzer. “First year students leave their families and pets and are loney and the pet cafe has been this amazing centre for community building. It’s a big draw for many students from diverse backgrounds and pet therapy is amazing.”
For students, the Wednesday afternoon on campus cuddle sessions at Finnerty Gardens and the Multifaith Centre are an important mental health boost.
“It’s so good!” says UVIc student Linea Leist. “It’s just therapeutic and it feels really healing.”
“Just touching their fur and having the company of a pet is really nice, especially since we’re in dorms,” student Maddie Haudjord says.
“It’s nice to have a break from all the stress,” adds UVic student Carys Mitchell. “It’s just a really stressful time so it’s nice we can come over here and de-stress with all the dogs.”
The Pet cafe is one of the many animal therapy programs the Pacific Animal Therapy Society has taken part in over the years.
“PATS was founded 33 years ago by Sadey Guy, a retired nurse,” Hiltner explains. “There’s a PAWS and Tails literacy program where we do reading with students in elementary schools, we do individual visits in hospitals, at the cancer clinic and care homes, in private residences.”
Completely volunteer-run, PATS is all about building connection and community and the volunteers who give their time say they get so much more back.
“It just seems to bring a lot of peace and happiness,” volunteer Jenni Aitkin says.
“I’m always surprised,” says Hiltner, who also volunteers her time. “I think I’m going to come here and give back to the community, I’ve got my dog and she’s lovely but really, I get so much out of it.”