Back by popular demand – students explore the therapeutic uses of animals

17/02/2019
MDX staff and students learn about the positive impact of animals on health and wellbeing

Following last year’s success, Child Health Nursing Lecturer Jenny Philips brought together another event promoting the therapeutic uses of animals on 20 February.

Representatives from organisations such as Guide Dogs For The Blind, Hearing Dogs For The Deaf, Canine Partners and Pets As Therapy were on hand in the Quad, sharing their experiences with students and staff.

“The aim is to share information and knowledge with students about the use of animals in human lives, having a positive impact on health and wellbeing and also through providing companionship.”
Jenny Philips, Child Health Nursing Lecturer

The event included police dog Ernie - who, his handler explained, is deployed more to take knives and guns off the streets in order to make a safer environment than to intimidate people - and police horses Q and London, who live in stables in West Hampstead. “I love being a mounted officer: they’re your teammates” said PC Sue McCullagh, on horse London.

“The aim is to share information and knowledge with students about the use of animals in human lives, through working with and for them, supporting daily living, having a positive impact on health and wellbeing and also through providing companionship.” said Jenny Phillips.

"The students have really enjoyed it. Some of them said it was bigger and better than last year”. Jenny talked about social prescribing and the role of nature and animals in human health and wellbeing. Social prescribing is a method of connecting patients in primary care with the different sources of support within the community and or the local surroundings. It provides GPs and community health care professionals with a non-medical referral option that can operate alongside existing treatments to improve health and wellbeing.

When Jenny carried out research to investigate the therapeutic use of animals for stressed students sitting exams, she found that exposure reduced the amount of physiological responses (vomiting, nose bleeds, respiratory issues) as well as emotional stresses (crying, shaking). Her research revealed that students were in a better frame of mind to sit exams in terms of being calmer and more focused.

Senior Nursing Lecturer Fiona Suthers pointed to the extent to which since November 2017, the five dogs MDX has used as canine teaching assistants have become embedded in University life.

The dogs are used within class to help reduce anxiety and refocus when learning becomes hard or stressful. The canine teaching assistants also provide an element of familiarity and comfort with no demands on the student directly and with no prejudices or expectations.

The University has a very robust strategy to ensure the welfare of the dogs is maintained as well as the safety of staff and students. The dogs have been used in a variety of settings, both in the classroom and larger events where students have a better opportunity to engage with them. When the dogs are 'working' they wear an identifiable tabard so people can recognise and approach them.

Very positive feedback has been received from students about the canine teaching assistants:

“Made me feel connect to home again and reminded me of my own dog at home with my family”

“Has taken my mind off my interview and has relaxed me (student waiting for their interview to start in September)”

“Time has gone too quick but I have slowed down for a little while and took some pleasure time”

“I felt so much more calmer after stroking her during the break”

Students who want to engage with Canine Teaching Assistants can do so every Monday between 10.30 and noon at the Wellbeing Services Centre at Sunny Hill House.

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