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A Commentary about Lessons Learned: Transitioning a Therapy Dog Program Online during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By C. Dell, L. Williamson, H. McKenzie, B. Carey, M. Cruz, M. Gibson, A. Pavelich

Category Journal Articles

In 2015, the University of Saskatchewan PAWS Your Stress Therapy Dog program partnered with St. John Ambulance for therapy dog teams to visit our campus and offer attendees love, comfort and support. We recognized at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that students, staff and faculty may require mental health support, particularly with the challenges of isolation and loneliness. In response, our team transitioned from an in-person to a novel online format at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We designed online content for participants to (1) connect with therapy dogs and experience feelings of love, comfort and support as occurred in in-person programming, and (2) learn about pandemic-specific, evidence-informed mental health knowledge. Our unique approach highlighted what dogs can teach humans about health through their own care and daily activities. From April to June 2020, we developed a website, created 28 Facebook livestreams and 60 pre-recorded videos which featured therapy dogs and handlers, and cross-promoted on various social media platforms. Over three months, first a combined process-outcome evaluation helped us determine whether our activities contributed to the program's goals. A subsequent needs assessment allowed us to elicit participant preferences for the program moving forward. This commentary reflects on these findings and our teams' collective experiences to share our key lessons learned related to program personnel needs, therapy dog handler training and support requirements, and online programming prerequisites. This combined understanding is informing our current activities with the virtual program and should be of interest to other therapy dog programs transitioning online.

Date 2021
Publication Title Animals (Basel)
Volume 11
Issue 3
Pages 14
ISBN/ISSN 2076-2615 (Print)2076-2615
Publisher MDPI
DOI 10.3390/ani11030914
Language English
Author Address Department of Sociology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5A5, Canada.
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Evaluation
  3. Isolation
  4. Mental health and well-being
  5. open access
  6. social media
  7. social support
  1. open access