Devon MacPherson may never have finished her schooling if it wasn’t for her canine study buddy Barkley.
Barkley, A beautiful white Standard Poodle attended every class and exam with her. Proudly escorting her around campus, he even kept an eye on her when she went on dates. Barkley kept her company when she was lonely, but most importantly he eased her anxiety.
MacPherson had been attending Nipissing University for two years when she started to feel that something wasn’t right. She felt uneasy, very nervous, and unsure herself all the time. She couldn’t study or take exams, and she knew she needed some help. She decided to go home and take a year off, and after visiting with her doctor, she was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Knowing that she needed treatment, Macpherson tried counseling and even started taking medicine for anxiety. She knew in her heart that those treatments weren’t for her though and decided that a therapy dog would be her best option and 3 years ago made Barkley a permanent part of her family.
Macpherson states that Barkley can smell an increase in the hormone oxytocin, a signifier of anxiety, and gives her a nudge to let her know that she needs to change what she is doing, leave the room, clear her mind and just take a break. She also states that she couldn’t have done it without him by her side.
“For people with anxiety, changes in the environment or doing things differently can be shocking, When I have Barkley with me, it’s something that’s consistent no matter where I go.”
MacPherson received her degree in individualized studies with a focus in the human/animal bond — service dogs, specifically — and communication studies. In her undergraduate thesis, she explored how service animals benefit mental health, as well as obstacles faced by people who currently need them.
Because Barkley attended every class and exam, Macpherson thought it only fitting that he wore his own cap and gown to graduation. She also credits York University for being supportive and accommodating to her needs as she continues with her Masters. She also hopes to see a national policy on Service Dogs