Therapy dog Percy sparks joy on campus
It’s the wagging tail that comes first. There is no red carpet or grand fireworks to signal his arrival, but he is immediately under the spotlight. People all around are drawn to him and he can’t help but revel in the admiration. His soft, brown eyes glisten as strangers reach to pet his golden coat. This is Percy’s duty as a therapy dog and what he does best.
Percy became a certified St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog when he was one and a half years-old. But, his job is different from that of a service dog and an emotional support dog. The former refers to dogs who are specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, and the latter refers to dogs who only offer therapeutic support to their owners. According to the St. John Ambulance website, a therapy dog’s responsibility is to bring “joy and comfort to the sick, lonely and those who need a friendly visit.”
Percy’s owner, Melanie Shulman, is visibly proud of Percy’s impact on the people they visit. “He just spreads so much love,” says Shulman, grinning.
According to studies by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, animals have been proven to help reduce depression, loneliness, and stress as they are hyper–aware of emotions all around them. Percy’s presence is an emblem of that feeling. However, not all dogs possess the ability to become therapy dogs. Dogs are chosen based on their temperament and obedience following tests under real-life situations.
Now, at four-years-old, Percy has had many accomplishments. “He’s met the mayor three times,” says Shulman. He is also responsible for making regular visits to hospitals, retirement residences, care facilities, and schools. Last year, following the Toronto van attack, Percy was among a group of dogs that went to Mel Lastman Square to give comfort and support to Torontonians during the devastating time.
Shulman, who is also a professor at Humber College North Campus, agrees that Percy is quite the celebrity. “I walk through the halls and people I don’t know are always going, ‘It’s Percy!’,” says Shulman.
It’s said that eyes are the window of the soul. And even though Percy can’t tell us himself, his eyes convey a natural sense of calm and understanding that anyone can take comfort in.
You can follow Percy on Instagram @PercyPerceptions.
With files from Katelyn O’Brien.