Skip to main content


Therapy dogs to support students at UCC

30 Aug 2023
Polly, a trained service dog from My Canine Companion, at the launch of the PAWS @ UCC programme. Image: UCC
  • UCC and My Canine Companion launch new service dog programme to combat stress and anxiety.
  • As college students gear up for the new term, accredited service dogs will support student well-being on campus.
  • Led by UCC’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, the initiative is the first of its kind in a university in Ireland.

Therapy dogs will be at the heart of a new well-being programme led by University College Cork (UCC) and My Canine Companion. The first of its kind in a university in Ireland, the PAWS programme aims to enhance student well-being and increase supports for students adjusting to university life.

Trained service dogs from My Canine Companion will become part of life on campus in a range of canine-assisted wellbeing events for students and staff. Weekly activities will be designed to promote social connections, reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and support students’ overall well-being.

The MCC PAWS @ UCC programme aims to tackle feelings of loneliness, stress and homesickness among university students, issues which can affect their physical and mental well-being and their academic performance. The service dogs will bring people together and provide opportunities for social connection, taking much needed breaks between time studying in the library or attending lectures.

 Internationally pet wellness programmes have been shown to act as an important mental health intervention on university campuses. Loneliness and homesickness are common challenges for university students, affecting their emotions, physical well-being, and academic performance.

Research has shown that interacting with dogs can decrease cortisol levels, a stress-related hormone, in university students and reduce feelings of loneliness. Various studies have found that people demonstrated an increase in levels of oxytocin, a hormone linked to bonding and positive emotional states, after time spent with dogs.

At a time where first year students prepare to commence their third level studies at UCC, the PAWS programme will play a significant role in helping new students adjust to university life.

UCC President Professor John O’Halloran said: “We are delighted to partner with My Canine Companion to bring highly skilled therapy dogs to UCC. The evidence is clear, from lowering stress levels to boosting social connections, there are many health benefits from time spent with companion dogs – whether one owns a dog or not. Whether a new or a returning student, adjusting to college life can be busy and stressful. We hope this initiative will brings great comfort, happiness and support to our students and staff.”

Cliona O’ Rourke, Co-Founder and Operations Manager at My Canine Companion, said “We’re excited to extend My Canine Companion’s partnership with UCC. This partnership builds upon our School Programme that currently involves over 30 dogs in primary and post-primary schools across the country.”

Dr Irene Hartigan, Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing & Midwifery, said “The influence of pets, particularly dogs, is widely recognised. I’m thrilled to work alongside students and staff in developing the PAWS program. Our objective is to explore how these joyful companions can enhance the UCC campus.”

Throughout the academic year 2023-2024, MCC PAWS @ UCC will hold a variety of events for students and staff in UCC that will facilitate the creation of canine connections on campus and enable access to My Canine Companion and resources and expertise.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF