RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey along with one of the BARK therapy dogs. - Image: Kathy Michaels

An RCMP officer’s best friend

Kelowna RCMP officers and staff enjoying unique program

Kelowna’s Police Services building has temporarily gone to the dogs, and it has everyone smiling.

Since the start of 2018, the local RCMP has partnered with Building Academic Retention through K9’s or BARK—a dog therapy program run under the direction of Dr. John-Tyler Binfet at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.

For the last several years, BARK has brought together university students with trained therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers in an effort to reduce stress and combat homesickness.

In the partnership with the RCMP, the aim is very similar.

READ MORE: BARK BRINGS CREATURE COMFORTS

“Bringing UBC BARK dogs to the local RCMP station helps to support employee well-being while strengthening our partnerships within our community,” said Binfet.

While Binfet has pioneered the successful UBC Okanagan program, it was actually RCMP Supt. Brent Mundle who saw a place for the cuddly canines in the local detachment.

“When I was stationed in Alberta, at one of the detachments I was working with, two of our officers had been shot and one passed away from his injuries,” said Mundle.

In the weeks that followed, there were a lot of understandably distressed people at the detachment. And one day, Mundle saw something lighten their load.

“We brought in a service dog and when it was in the building it had a large impact on the people. I always kept that in the back of my mind that I would want to pursue it if I had an opportunity,” he said.

When he ended up being transferred to Kelowna, he heard Binfet speaking at the annual anti-bullying breakfast about the university program and he saw an opportunity.

He reached out, and the two together have started a relationship that is both unique and beneficial.

Dog handler Maureen Watt said she immediately recognized the benefits to local RCMP.

“There’s a different culture when you’re working with RCMP (than at the university). They (police) don’t talk about stressors a lot of the time. I can say that from personal knowledge because I’m married to a former RCMP Staff Sgt,” she said.

“Here it’s a quiet exercise where we allow the dog to zoom in upon the person who is having the stress. They edge closer and they touch the dog. You can see the physical changes. Their shoulders relax and all they are doing is patting the dog.”

The handler, she said, immediately fades into the background. It’s a gratifying position to be in, said another handler.

“I wish I could articulate all the wonderful things I see from people,” said Samantha Levin. “It’s cool to give back to people who risk their lives on a daily basis…Sharing them is the most wonderful thing ever. We go away she’s tired but happy, I’m happy and our participants are happy, too.”

RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey took advantage of the opportunity to spend some personal time with the stress reducing therapy dogs.

“I quickly realized the benefits of such an interaction,” he said. “It’s not every day that an officer can pet, get close to or even embrace a K9 inside a police detachment, our police dogs are great partners, but their training has taken them down a different career path than therapy dogs.”

On average four therapy canines visit the Kelowna RCMP Detachment, accompanied by their volunteer dog handlers, for a nearly two hour drop-in session one day each week. Two weeks remain in the trial phase, at which time the overall effectiveness of the program will be assessed.

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