By: Megan Vukelic

 This Welcome Week, McMaster welcomed more than just first-year students. Scout, a one-year-old border collie, is the newest addition to campus as part of a partnership between the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Hamilton-Burlington SPCA.

Scout is currently going through therapy dog assessment administered by the SPCA. The goals of the program are threefold: helping students de-stress by interacting with Scout, promoting services offered to social science students, and bridging the gap between students and faculty.

The program has stemmed from a pilot study led by James Gillett from the department of Health, Aging and Society, which focuses on the nature of bonds between humans and animals.

Gillett describes Scout as a canine ambassador for the faculty. While McMaster has had therapy dogs in residence as well as Mills Library in the past, Scout will be social science centric.

“In the residences there is not as much access to everyone,” said Gillett. “This program will make the services available to all social science students.”

However, Scout is more than just a therapy dog. “The program is not exclusively for mental health. We are trying to do both – help students deal with the stresses of campus but also give them tools for success.”

He explains that often students that need academic and personal services the most are also the most reluctant. Having therapy dogs available will make these programs more accessible and make students more likely to feel comfortable to pursue them.

Similar programs have been implemented in universities across Canada. At the University of Alberta, students are able to take registered therapy dogs for walks around the community. At the University of Saskatchewan, professors with their own therapy dogs have been bringing them to campus as part of an initiative to foster connections between faculty and students.

Therapy dogs on campus have helped reduce the fear that some students have when approaching professors or faculty. Gillett expressed his intentions of incorporating such techniques into the program at McMaster in the future, in order to foster greater community within the social science department and improve student experience.

Students in the Faculty of Social Sciences have been overwhelmingly supportive of the program, recognizing the benefits for students. Daniel D’Angela, Welcome Week planner for Social Sciences, expressed his support of the program after meeting scout at Faculty Day while he greeted incoming students.

“The SPCA dog program is a great way to provide opportunities for students to de-stress with the added bonus of promoting resources that the University provides,” he said. It is the intention of the program that Scout will have more of a full time presence at McMaster in the following school year once he has completed the therapy dog program, and will hopefully be accompanied by more furry friends.

Leah Flanagan
The Silhouette

 

About 4,000 cats and kittens are euthanized in Hamilton each year as the population of stray cats grows out of control. As of the writing this, there are 593 felines, mostly kittens, “free to a good home” on Kijiji in the Hamilton area canadian meds viagra and thousands in foster care and shelters. Many McMaster students living in the student housing area will feed a stray for the school year, but where does it go afterwards?

Young adults are the most likely to move from home to home in very short amounts of time and in the process, a lot of homed cats become homeless when their owners move out. Being a school with such an intelligent student population, developing a solution should come as naturally as a kitten playing with string.

Every female cat older than five months can reproduce then give birth to over 30 kittens a year if they aren’t spayed. The cats in shelters that are scheduled to be euthanized need good homes but education on proper care for a cat is just as important in stopping this problem. Gail McGinnis, a member of the Kit Cat Club says, “You can’t just give a kitten to a child and say ‘here you go.’ We need to educate people how to care for these babies, because that’s what they are, babies.”

The average domestic indoor house cat can live to be over twenty years old. That’s twenty years of love, for better or for worse.

McMaster could introduce a program to promote proper care for pets as well as developing a unique a solution to the adopt-and-ditch norm of off-campus students.  For people who are looking to adopt, are there other ways to have a pet and not take care of it for its entire life? Many charitable organizations for stray cats, such as SPCA, HAS, Kit Cat Club and Organization for the Rescue of Animals, are always urgently looking for homes for foster care. This means taking in a pet for a certain length of time and providing it with care, food and shelter. If students volunteered to be foster homes, they wouldn’t be faced with the decision of whether to abandon their pet. It could also give the students the opportunity to see if they are responsible enough to care for another.

Caring for a cat without the financial support of an organization’s help can also be costly. The average cat owner can spend about $900 per year on its basic needs such as food, vet care and litter and the initial essential supplies cost about $300. Most students have loans to pay.

A program should be made at McMaster for adopting a good number of cats and passing them on to the next student as years go on. This would create more jobs during the year and in the summer for placing the cats in homes and doing check-ins to know they are in safe hands.

The cats and kittens should be under contract in a partnership of the school and the shelters to make sure that the animals are returned safely at the end of the year rather than abandoned to increase the student’s responsibility.

Of course, not every student is pet-savvy. Volunteers from shelters should come in to speak to people interested in having a pet and give them a basic training course. This would include teaching them how to properly hold their pet, how much food they need, the overall responsibility, as well as the benefits to having a pet in university or even over a lifetime.

The operation to spay and neuter cats could be a good substitute for medical student’s first surgery. McGinnis says, “We need a really low cost spay/neuter clinic in the area.” With one not in sight for a two-hour bus ride, the likely chance of students actually taking the time is little to none.

The cats could also become part of a research project to see if they help reduce depression in university students. Cats have also been known to help depression in moderate to mild cases, or at least help people cope with their mental state if it is more severe. With 24 per cent of all 15-24 year old deaths being related to suicide, the theory of cats being “happy makers” could benefit both stressed and depressed students.

The City of Hamilton doesn’t have a solution yet, but the Marauders could be it.

By adopting a large number of cats into a school program, neutering and spaying them through the school curriculum, raising money through events to give back to the community and cover the cost of supplies needed to house the cats through fundraisers, the cat community, Hamilton and McMaster can finally be a cat-killing-free community.

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