Ruth Danzter, Anglican Chaplain at UVic
As a campus chaplain, I have the unique responsibility to reach out to the entire university community, which obviously includes a diverse group of people. In creating the on-campus programs that are offered under the Anglican umbrella at UVic, my goal was to be as inclusive as possible. With this, I wanted to offer a wide range of programs: one that would appeal to the masses; one that would draw those from other faith communities; and programs that would attract Anglicans (and of course other Christians). The Pet Café was born out of my intention to offer a regular program that would attract those students and staff who wouldn’t normally come to the Interfaith Chapel, but could benefit from the community building and spiritual nourishment that frequently happens on-site.
I envisioned the Pet Café as a place for people to come and hang out, meet new people, connect with animals, get comfortable in the Interfaith Chapel, and gain a greater awareness of the incredible scope of programs that are offered through Multifaith Services. Prior to launching the first Pet Café on September 6th, I had no idea what to expect, but I did my best to prepare for this first event and all the unknown factors. To my surprise, nearly 200 students showed up for the first Pet Café. Students lined up to get in and they all crammed into the relatively small space provided—all to pet a few dogs! It has been maintaining its popularity since its inception, only a few short months ago.
The overwhelming response that the Pet Café program has created across campus has made me realize the need that students have for environments that are conducive to connection (with their peers and their animal friends) and the need they have for effective gateways to help release some of the stress that they carry, either through socializing or through the hands-on experience with the pets. With the animals as the focus point, the pressure to socialize (and all the anxiety that often comes with that) is not present. The animals provide a natural ‘icebreaker,’ and as a result, the atmosphere is one of relaxation, peace, and emotional connection. At every Pet Café, there are at least a couple of students who come to me with their tears: sometimes they express sadness around leaving home for the first time and feeling homesick, often they are missing their own pets, some are feeling lonely/isolated in this new university community, some convey both the loss and the excitement that the transition into university carries, and some experience deep gratitude for the opportunity the Pet Café provides to feel a part of something meaningful to them. This program has been an incredible way for me to make contact with students, and for them to know that I am present if they need support. I am seeing that there is something spiritual happening at each Pet Café: the hospitality that is extended, the connections that are being made, and the healing that is happening by way of the therapy animals, all is in perfect alignment with the goals of the Anglican Campus Spirituality at UVic.
The Pet Café would not be possible were it not for themany volunteers on board. Both PATS (Pacific Animal Therapy Society) and St. John’s Therapy Animals are involved in the Pet Café. These trained ‘teams’ (owner and pet) generously commit to showing up every couple of weeks to provide the gifts of presence to the eager university students. The animals that have been volunteering their time at the Pet Café are remarkable creatures. Surrounded by dozens of students at once, many of them slip into a seriously relaxed state and open themselves to the love being poured onto them. Others excitedly welcome the attention, soaking it in like a sponge, and always ready for more. The Pet Café has become a popular placement for student volunteers. Currently, I have a team of committed
students that help with the set-up and take-down of the actual event and assist with the many tasks
surrounding publicity and social media. Volunteers from both St. George’s and St. Philip have been
baking and delivering cookies every week and these treats are thoroughly enjoyed by all who attend. A heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers who help make this program the success that it has become!
Find us on Facebook for more information on the Pet Café and all the other programs offered
through Anglican Spirituality on Campus at UVic: www.facebook.com/AnglicanCampusSpiritualityUVic
or email Ruth at [email protected]