Service dog and student to cross convocation stage in matching cap and gown


TORONTO, June 15 – York University student Devon MacPherson won’t be alone when she crosses the convocation stage tomorrow morning to receive her diploma. Barkley, her mental health service dog, will share the limelight in his own gown and cap.

Devon MacPherson and her service dog Barkley

Devon MacPherson and her service dog Barkley

MacPherson is an excellent example of student success and York U’s commitment to mental health. After taking some time off, MacPherson came to York U for another crack at post-secondary education. This time it worked.

Diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder, MacPherson credits her dog, a white Standard Poodle, with helping her complete her degree and York U for creating a supportive environment. She will receive her degree in independent studies with a focus in the human/animal bond and communication studies at York U’s spring convocation ceremony Tuesday, June 16 starting at 10:30am.

“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,” says MacPherson. Barkley accompanied MacPherson to all her university classes.

“But he can also warn me when my anxiety is going to rise,” she says. Barkley can smell an increase in the hormone oxytocin and gives MacPherson a nudge to let her know.

MacPherson is a vocal mental health advocate on campus and in the broader community and is calling for a national policy on service dogs, especially those used for mental health, to create consistency in training and standards across the country.

Her undergraduate thesis was on the benefit of service animals in human mental health, including veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. MacPherson realizes more research is needed to help increase awareness of service dogs for mental health and to reduce the associated stigma and barriers.

She will be back at York U in the fall to work on a master’s degree in critical disability studies to continue her service dog research.

York University’s convocation ceremonies will be held from Friday, June 12 to Saturday, June 20. The Convocation website includes a full schedule of all ceremonies. All ceremonies will take place at the Convocation Pavilion, located at the Aviva Centre (formerly the Rexall Centre), 1 Shoreham Drive, at York University’s Keele campus (#8 on the map) with the exception of the final convocation ceremony, which will be held at the Glendon College campus.

York University is helping to shape the global thinkers and thinking that will define tomorrow. York U’s unwavering commitment to excellence reflects a rich diversity of perspectives and a strong sense of social responsibility that sets us apart. A York U degree empowers graduates to thrive in the world and achieve their life goals through a rigorous academic foundation balanced by real-world experiential education. As a globally recognized research centre. York U is fully engaged in the critical discussions that lead to innovative solutions to the most pressing local and global social challenges. York U’s 11 faculties and 25 research centres are thinking bigger, broader and more globally, partnering with 280 leading universities worldwide. York U’s community is strong − 55,000 students, 7,000 faculty and staff, and more than 275,000 alumni.


Media Contact:
Sandra McLean, York University, 416-736-2100 ext. 22097 /