May 22, 2020

Wellness dog part of Nursing's mental health and wellness initiative

Meet Jack, the Australian Labradoodle, whose mission is to promote the well-being of nursing students, faculty and staff

Meet Jack. Yes, he is cute and cuddly, but this Australian Labradoodle also has an important purpose. As UCalgary Nursing’s wellness dog, his mission is to help promote the well-being of students, faculty and staff. Currently, Jack is "hosting" bi-monthly drop-in sessions for faculty members via Zoom. Once daily campus life resumes, he will be providing on-site support twice a week and during times of higher stress.

As a university-approved wellness dog pilot project for one year, Jack is a significant part of UCalgary Nursing Mental Health and Wellness (MH&W) Initiative which launched in 2019.

Jack Wellness Dog

Jack is an Australian Labradoodle and the Faculty of Nursing's wellness dog.

“Wellness and therapy dogs are present on campuses across Canada, offering many benefits to students and staff,” says initiative director Dr. Jacqueline Smith, PhD.

“There are many evidence-informed research studies that have recognized the benefit of animals, especially dogs, for the enhancement of mental health and well-being.

"Dogs used in this way, in a variety of institutions and businesses, help support a calming and relaxing work environment.”

The pilot was developed in consultation with experts from UCalgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) and Risk Management and Insurance regarding breed selection, vaccinations, health, responsibilities, training, supervision and other arrangements. Several aspects of the project are being finalized before the start of on-campus activities, including risk management details and UCVM’s offer to help ensure Jack’s well-being while he supports UCalgary Nursing.

UCVM senior instructor Dr. Serge Chalhoub, DVM, was excited about the mutual benefits of a wellness dog to both his faculty and nursing. Experienced with service/learning dogs, Chalhoub co-ordinates a pet health clinic with the Calgary Urban Projects Society (CUPS), which offers a service learning experience for third-year DVM students and helping care for the pets of disadvantaged Calgarians.

"I was so excited to hear about this proposed initiative! It was an interesting challenge to think about how we could support a teaching/learning dog," he says.

Chalhoub and a team of UCVM veterinarians offered advice to Smith on pet selection and care, and proposed that the UCVM's Small Animal Club and its students could help provide wellness care for Jack, under UCVM faculty supervision, as a learning experience for them. He also worked to secure the faculty's commitment to manage the Jack's routine health needs.

"I can't wait for post-COVID-19 for the dog to be in the building and for the students to experience the advantages."

Christi Lange with Jack at 8 weeks.

Owner Christi Lange with Jack at eight weeks.

Keenly missing a pet after losing both of their dogs in late 2018, UCalgary Nursing research facilitator Dr. Christine Lange, PhD and her husband, Steve, had been contemplating another pet when Lange learned of the faculty’s plan to integrate a wellness dog in its MH&W Initiative.

“It didn’t take a lot of convincing,” says Lange, who privately purchased the puppy earlier this year from experienced local breeder Prairie Doodles. “We know labradoodles are widely recognized as well-suited to this type of work since they are highly trainable, extremely friendly and very low shedding. We are really happy to be partnering with UCalgary Nursing on this exciting project.”

Well-trained and social media-savvy

Now almost six months old, Jack, named following a contest held in January, is nearly 30 pounds, five to 10 pounds shy of his expected final weight. He is full of energy and thriving on the kibble and canned food donated by Purina Canada. Supported by a generous UCalgary Nursing donor, Jack is receiving formal training through Canine Minds and Manners, learning socialization, impulse control, focus and obedience. He even has his own Instagram account — be.well.with.jack — where he is building up a strong following.

In addition to Christi and Steve, Jack lives with big sister Tessie, a 15-year-old American shorthair cat. “Jack adores Tessie,” says Lange, “and while it is clear that some day it will be mutual, we aren’t there quite yet. Jack also loves tennis balls, squeaky toys and chew sticks, and sitting on the back porch watching the birds and squirrels go by — for hours! Most of all, Jack loves people and I’m sure can’t wait to meet everyone at UCalgary Nursing."

Smith adds, “We are really excited for the day that Jack can be formally introduced in the faculty. He made a couple of brief appearances in the winter as part of his socialization program, but we plan to have a dedicated space for him to receive visitors and will communicate in advance to everyone about his activities. We know it will add yet another layer to our already robust mental health and wellness initiative.”

At UCalgary we continue to offer mental health support for students, faculty and staff with remote services. If you are experiencing significant stress related to your mental health during COVID-19, seek support — visit our Mental Health During COVID-19 web page for a list of resources and supports.