Is Concordia’s therapy dog bridging trust between campus security and students?

Campus safety and prevention services welcome Newton to focus on the wellness aspect in the university community. Photo by Emma Megelas / The Concordian

How Newton’s presence shapes the future of security on campus.

Students should feel safe around campus, whether it’s while talking to friends in a crowded atrium, walking to class, or facing a stressful exam. 

Concordia’s security observes and takes action when a student is in trouble—or at least that’s what it’s meant to do. Unfortunately, Concordia’s security systems have struggled to connect with the community on campus. 

On Sept. 26, Concordia welcomed six-month-old Portuguese Water Dog, Newton, as the university’s first full-time therapy dog. Newton’s job is to walk around campus meeting students, to receive endless pets, and to help relieve them of their stress. 

His arrival comes after Concordia’s Campus Safety and Prevention Services decided to adopt a wellness component. Darren Dumoulin, director of the services and Newton’s handler, felt it was important to expand the services to focus on anxiety and stress relief for students. 

“Part of a safe campus is [that] people are well and feel good on campus. We wanted to really explore that and Newton has done a really phenomenal job in respect to that,” Dumoulin said. “We saw [Newton] with the people and it just put smiles on their faces, and the comments are incredible.”

Dumoulin understands that there is a lack of trust between the agents and students. He hopes that with Newton around, students will feel more comfortable speaking with Concordia’s security guards.“We’re here for the safety and security of students. We want students to really feel comfortable with our agents and feel that they’re approachable,” he said.

In 2022, Concordia released the President’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism Final Report after a Black student was questioned aggressively by SPVM officers outside the Hall building. This incident was also followed by a series of aggressive interactions between Concordia security guards and Black students. 

Angélique Wilkie, chair of the President’s Task Force on anti-Black Racism and associate professor in Concordia’s department of contemporary dance, published a report following Concordia’s statement on Black Lives Matters to ensure an anti-racist environment in and outside the university.

One of the concerns outlined in the report was campus security and how Concordia’s safety personnel must understand the difference between policing and safety. Wiljie is happy to know that Newton’s presence is improving these issues.

“Newton’s not a security dog. He’s not muzzled. No, he’s wagging his tail, it’s a whole different way of engaging,” she said. “So, for the security personnel engaging with Newton, it changes something for them. It means that students can move towards them with much more ease. Things are diffused, softer, gentler. It allows conversation.”

Gabriel Gaumond is a community relations agent and walks Newton around campus. He said that Newton is creating healthy connections with students and making it easier for them to approach security. “Later if [students] have problems, they’ll come to see me because they know me, they trust me. I create a connection with the community over time, thanks to him,” Gaumond said.

When it comes to warning students during questionable situations, Gaumond is careful not to be intimidating.

“I’m always going to warn [students], but I’m going to stop for 5 minutes, chat with them and introduce myself, be friendly like that,” Gaumond said.

Newton’s presence  also leaves its mark on the staff of Campus Safety and Prevention Services. Dumoulin has noticed a more vibrant energy in the office, which is improving the team’s work performance.

Dumoulin suspects Newton’s schedule will get busier as he attends more events around campus in the future. He also hopes Newton will continue to bring smiles and safety to students and staff.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts