Bay University and their four-legged friends


Natalie Gyde

Bay University Director Jenna Smith holds her dog Ellie, as a new Bay University student pets her.

Natalie Gyde, Social Coordinator

Hang out in the F-Building for a while, and chances are you might hear faint barking. Turn around, and you’ll find three therapy dogs waddling into the Bay University (BU) classroom: Ellie, the Australian collie; Cecil, the dachshund and Moose, the labrador retriever.  

Throughout the day, these furry friends roam around teacher Jenna Smith’s room, where they comfort and aid students who need such support. 

“[The dogs] do pressure therapy for students if they get overstimulated,” Smith said. “Just in general, dogs are super healing. I have a number of students on the autism spectrum, and sensory overload can cause a lot of anxiety and behaviors.” 

Smith started the program in 2009 with her first dog Simon and has since seen only positive outcomes. 

“I had a young man who used to not want to ride public transit, but if you handed him the leash, he would start walking the dog and in his mind, he was so focused on the dog that he would access the community,” Smith said. 

Individually trained and certified, these dogs are far more capable than an ordinary pet — they provide the students with their emotions and give them physical confidence. Moose, for example, is currently being trained by the facility Canine Companions for Independence, which means that he will be able to recognize situations and know exactly what to do under those circumstances unlike Ellie or Cecil. However, their assistance even goes beyond the classroom walls. 

“[The dogs] can train the students to live independently. We teach them about what it’s like to also own a pet, sometimes we will walk to Pet Food Express and they learn how to give the dogs a bath,” Smith said. 

Steve Meyer, an instructional assistant at Bay University, is around the dogs for most of his workday. The dogs may not be his own dogs, but similar to the BU students, they are like family. 

“Having the dogs is so unique and they have helped so many students overcome their fear with animals and go outside their comfort zone,” Meyer said. 

Being around the dogs on a regular basis also helps students become comfortable with animals — a key step in Bay University’s larger goal of transitioning their students into adulthood. 

“We are in the community every day, and we want the students to lead the way,” Meyer said. “So using the dogs they are able to learn that they not only have themselves to look after, but also the dogs.”

Both Smith and Meyer said that the students and dogs develop close relationships during the four-year program. 

“These dogs, just like the students, have very different personalities, and students will tend to gravitate towards one of the dogs in general and have a bond with them,” Smith said. 

Ellie is one of the older dogs and, despite having only three legs, she still proves to be reliable and helpful in and out of the classroom, especially with students who use wheelchairs. 

“On one of our hiking days, we’ve actually attached [Ellie] to Brett’s wheelchair when we went on [a] double slide and since it was such a steep incline,” Smith said. 

In every way, these dogs are a helpful source of physical and emotional strength. 

“Seeing the innocent smiles that come from the kids when they see the dogs is definitely the best part,” Meyer said.