Pippa (Wheaton Terrier) with students at a drop-in session(B.A.R.K./Submitted)

Kelowna therapy dogs hit the web

B.A.R.K. hopes to help more people by offering online canine therapy

Dog therapy has gone virtual at Kelowna’s B.A.R.K. program.

Building Academic Retention through K9s (B.A.R.K.) is a student support program, run out of UBC Okanagan that is aiming to help more people with their new online platform.

The virtual sessions are available on the UBCO website at B.A.R.K. goes Virtual.

Freya Green, the program coordinator, said that B.A.R.K.’s goal is to support student wellbeing on campus, and beyond, for those experiencing homesickness and stress.

“Spending time with therapy dogs does improve social well-being,” said Green.

B.A.R.K. has been helping students at UBCO for ten years, but because of the constraints of the pandemic, they have been restricted in what they can offer.

Typically, B.A.R.K. holds two canine therapy sessions on campus each week. Green said that drop-ins are welcome but many people are still learning remotely or do not feel comfortable attending in-person sessions.

The group came up with the idea for a virtual canine therapy after considering “how can we reach the students that are not on campus?” said Green. “We want to reach people that we can’t otherwise.”

People over the age of 16 hoping to take time to manage stress online are invited to answer a few questions about their mental health and then watch a five-minute prerecorded video of a handler and her therapy dog.

The B.A.R.K. virtual program is a collaboration between UBC and Brock University and is funded by SSHRC.

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Forrest, a border collie mix, with a student at a drop-in (B.A.R.K./Submitted)