Furry cuddles and stress relief

Interfaith Chapel holds a weekly Pet Café for stress relief

Students are bombarded with stressors over the course of the academic year: being away from home for an extended amount of time, academic deadlines, time commitment pressures, and monetary limitations. It can all add up pretty fast. But there are a couple ways to lessen the burden of those looming responsibilities: pets and free food.

Ruth Dantzer, the Anglican Chaplain at the University of Victoria, knows about both. Dantzer hosts a Pet Café every Wednesday afternoon in the Interfaith Chapel on campus. The Pet Café welcomes all community members and offers creature comforts from home: tea and coffee, cookies, friendly faces, and numerous animals to cuddle.

This drop-in program is held while school is in session, on Wednesdays from 2:30–4 p.m. All the pups are registered therapy dogs who aid students in reducing stress and anxiety — one pat at a time.

Students can visit the Interfaith Chapel to drink orange pekoe and pet puppers like Ian, the super chill basset hound. Photo via Facebook

“There is no specific programming involved in the sessions, so people are free to do whatever speaks to them: whether that is to socialize with the animals, other people, or simply hang out and relax,” said Dantzer, organizer of the Pet Café. “I am trying to create a café-like atmosphere or a ‘third space’ here at the chapel, where the community feels invited, welcome, and supported.”

All animals are certified with either the Pacific Animal Therapy Society (PATS) or the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program. These two organizations alternate weeks of service, with teams consisting of the pet and their supervising owner. Every week there is a minimum of five teams present, often including a beloved cat named Mandy.

“The presence of animals provides an effective gateway into meaningful connection for most people,” said Dantzer. “The Pet Café is a safe space for people to be mindful of all the feelings they are carrying with them, and hopefully, it provides them an opportunity to release some of the weight that comes with student life.”

Kelsey Kotzian, a third-year student who majors in Child and Youth Care and volunteers each week at the Pet Café, agreed.

“Everybody when they come here, they have big beaming smiles on their faces,” Kotzian said.

Many students leave their childhood homes and pets behind to attend university classes in another town, province, or country. The Pet Café provides the comfort of a friendly snuggle or lick to someone who is missing their own family pet.

“I am a firm believer in animals as a therapy, and animals as support systems and attachment figures, and for everybody, and the healing power that can come through them,” Kotzian said.

The Pet Café provides a bustling haven of conversation, connection, and an escape for students feeling the added stress of exams and assignments.

“You can tell that [the people who come] are tired, exhausted, mentally and physically drained,” she said. “For that 10 minutes that they are sitting there, and the dog is focusing all their attention on them, you can see them light up.”

OK, not this kind of pet cafe. Graphic by Nat Inez, Graphics Contributor

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