Every month, the Mindfulness Society at the University of Huddersfield runs a ‘Puppy Room’, where for just £2.50 – less than the price of a cosy cup of hot chocolate at campus Starbucks – you can have fifteen minutes of something even more guaranteed to lift your mood – the company of the gorgeous Luna and Gracie, therapy dogs extraordinaire.
The money goes to Mind, the mental health charity, while Paul Calkin, the dogs’ trainer, gives his services for free. I was invited along to the session on the 14th December to see what it was all about, and as I entered the room, I was greeted enthusiastically by the two pups, who eagerly licked my face – “they love the taste of makeup!” laughs Paul – and begged for biscuits.
Alas, as it was the last session of the day, there were no biscuits to be had, but Luna and Gracie had plenty to keep them busy as a group of six students petted them and laughed at their antics.
Luna is a a two and a half year old black labrador, fully trained as a therapy dog, and especially talented at working with dementia patients, but she loves everyone. Paul told me about how she can go up to a person with severe dementia and nudge them, moving her head against their hand until they stroke her, and then get up and lick their face until they come to, and can hold conversations and interact with the dogs for fifteen minutes or so at a time.
“She’s mostly self-taught in that,” he beamed, although her other training – and it is considerable – is all his hard work.
Gracie was rescued after her owner became ill, and, unable to look after her, kept her in a cage, causing her health to deteriorate. She will be three years old in January, and is still in training, but she is learning fast. Paul is thinking of training her as a ‘reading dog’, who can help children struggling to learn to read by giving positive encouragement, rather than getting frustrated or exasperated as a human helper might.
The Mindfulness Society aims to reduce the amount of stress, loneliness, depression or any other mental problem a person may have, and Luna and Gracie certainly do just that. I entered the room with my essay deadline, later that day, firmly at the front of my mind, but within ten minutes of watching their daft, enthusiastic play with their new toys – a squeaky pig, and a squeaky ball on a rope – I felt much less stressed, and more optimistic about the world.
The money also goes to an excellent cause; recent figures from the NUS suggest that around 80% of students experience mental health issues, and Mind are a leading charity in helping people with mental illness.
The Mindfulness Society are on Facebook and hold regular events, from the puppy rooms to arts and crafts, seeking to give students a quick boost of positivity and a short break from their studies, so if you’re feeling stressed, I absolutely recommend losing yourself to some puppy love for fifteen minutes!