Universities in Hong Kong

HKU’s new ‘employee’, therapy dog Jasper, is a campus hit this exam period

HKU Libraries has doubled the number of sessions where students can play with and talk to Jasper to help them relax

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 4:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 11:00pm

When Jasper’s current owners first met him in 2009 at an animal shelter, he was underweight.

But even in less-than-ideal conditions, the English sheepdog was friendly and enthusiastic when interacting with people. He made an instant connection with the people who would become his new family.

“I was volunteering with my wife at Hong Kong Dog Rescue at that time and when I asked my wife to meet Jasper, he immediately ran up to her and I was like that’s it, we are taking him home,” owner Gary Chin, who is also the University of Hong Kong Libraries’ public relations and development manager, said.

Given the nine-year-old dog’s affable nature, Chin and his wife thought it would be good for Jasper to give back to society.

So when the HKU Libraries suggested having him as a resident therapy dog, the couple took Jasper for the necessary tests and certifications.

Last month, Jasper became a member of HKU and was given his own facilities access card, when it announced the launch of a pilot programme for its students and staff to book 30-minute sessions with Jasper during the exam period.

The libraries initially planned to accommodate 36 people in this programme, with nine sessions scheduled over three days this month, and four people in each session.

But they received an overwhelming number of over 160 applications for the December 11, 13 and 15 sessions at the Lui Che Woo Law Library in the Centennial Campus of HKU in Sai Ying Pun.

They have now opened up nine additional sessions for December 19, 20 and 22. Registration for the new sessions is still open.

Exam stress getting to you? Meet Jasper, the HKU therapy dog

Participants can play with Jasper and talk to him to help relieve stress, with Chin being at the sessions to supervise the interactions. Chin has extensive experience with animals, having served on the executive board of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) between 2011 and 2015. He is also a certified groomer.

Cordelia Chan, Chin’s wife and also a HKU staff member, said it is easy to tell that Jasper cares for others.

“If he notices there is something wrong or that other dogs are not feeling well, he can sense this and will come over to check on you,” she said.

Therapy dogs help young, painfully shy Hongkongers overcome social fears

While some universities in the city offer one-off therapy sessions in collaboration with other organisations, HKU’s pilot programme is unique as it is the first among Hong Kong universities to have the furry friend be a member of the institution.

Law librarian Irene Shieh said they would gather feedback from the students to see if the programme should be extended.

Besides his new role at HKU, Jasper is also a regular presence at charity events.

Chin said he hoped Jasper would help students, and that his story would also lead to improved animal welfare and increased public awareness on issues such as adoption and illegal breeding.