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Dalhousie University students Kyla Strowbrige, left, and April Drake, right, pet Colby a five-year-old Australian Labradoodle. (Sándor Fizli For The Globe and Mail)
Dalhousie University students Kyla Strowbrige, left, and April Drake, right, pet Colby a five-year-old Australian Labradoodle. (Sándor Fizli For The Globe and Mail)

TART

‘What did you just eat?’ The lessons of a university minor in ‘dog’ Add to ...

Some evenings, my dog comes and gets me out of bed specifically, I’ve realized, to watch her eat.

“Sorry,” her eyes say to me sincerely, “I am a social animal.”

And then I stand in the kitchen as she slowly eats the bowl of food that sits waiting for her all the time, even when I’m not warm in bed.

I never say no to her. I’ve devoted a fair amount of my life to an animal so stupid that when it’s raining and I try to put her out the back door because she has to pee, she argues to go out the front door instead, where it is not raining.

Have you ever argued with a whippet? You can’t win. It’s like arguing with a very thin, very fast baby.

This week, at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, students lined up for as long as 45 minutes for admittance to a Puppy Room organized by the student union in the hopes that time spent with dogs would alleviate some of the students’ stress, peaking now during exam time.

I can’t be cynical about this, as I live in what is essentially a series of Puppy Rooms inspired by the same logic. To me, a dog is part of what makes a home what it should be – a place to which one never even slightly dreads returning.

There was a neighbourhood bar near where I stayed on several visits to Paris, and I think it would take the edge off the world if the combination of wine, adequate food and elderly spaniel I found there were to lie at the end of every long hallway.

The dogs at Dalhousie were not puppies but fully grown therapy dogs, and the Puppy Room has been a huge success, upsetting those who, apparently concerned that they don’t sound old enough, like to complain that kids today don’t know what stress, work and music are … and insert obligatory reference to video games played in basements here.

Apparently students shouldn’t harbour any anxiety while working hard to graduate from school heavily in debt into an increasingly insecure job market where homeownership may well elude many of them.

After all, they have devoted some of their leisure time to slaying the Archdemon and driving the accursed darkspawn back to the Deep Roads rather then listening to the Grateful Dead, and thus deserve any fate that awaits them.

To scroll through some of the comments made online about the Puppy Room, one might conclude that in the olden days universities had rooms where the students wrestled urban raccoons for avocado pits, and the goal was to make guacamole for an entire dorm, so if you didn’t win, no one ate. And the struggle wasn’t a stress-relieving, dinner-serving option: You either took up arms against a sea of urban racoons, or you lined up for the Angry Rural Bear Room. I imagine it was usually a pretty even split.

To hear it told, you’d think the class of ’72 had a Crawl Space of Mountain Lions at their universities.

Perhaps it would cheer up the complaining no-longer-students to view the Puppy Room as yet another deception arranged for these students – because while dogs are calming, dog ownership is often not.

Dog ownership is years of “What did you just eat?” And apologizing to squirrels, or just-widowed squirrels. And negotiating with an animal clever enough to be able to spell W-A-L-K, even when whispered, but unable to understand the concept that, for the hundredth time, I cannot put the blanket over you if you are standing on the blanket and your level of ecstatic excitement, indeed almost hysteria, over the (increasingly remote) prospect of you being blanketed does nothing to facilitate me tucking you in.

The Puppy Room is just a big furry lie that I assure angry commenters will in no way lead to liberal arts majors swimming with dolphins on the taxpayer’s dime. Nor, sadly, to my own dream of an Otter Room, teeming with specially trained therapy otters.

That’s a service I’d pay for, much the same way some women here in Toronto join a particular many-tubbed spa, which is not unlike paying to belong to a really nice bathroom – an idea that makes me anxious, and thus more in need of therapy otters.

News of the Puppy Room has been reported around the world; I read it in The Times of India. And I say well played, Dalhousie, well-played, Student Union, and best of luck on your exams to students everywhere.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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