B.A.R.K. (Building Academic Retention through K9’s). - Image Credit: Carmen Weld

B.A.R.K. (Building Academic Retention through K9’s). - Image Credit: Carmen Weld

Student stress relief: wagging tails and smiling faces

It is all about puppy love Friday afternoons at UBC Okanagan when some special pooches arrive. love.

It is all about puppy love Friday afternoons at UBC Okanagan when some special pooches arrive.

“It is like the greatest thing in the world,” said one smiling student as he stroked one of 17 therapy dogs hanging out on campus for the weekly B.A.R.K. drop-in labs.

“B.A.R.K. Stands for Building Academic Retention through K9s and it a program here on campus to support the social and emotional well being of students, primarily around stress reduction and home sickness,” explained B.A.R.K. director Dr. John-Tyler Binfet.

“The dogs do work people can’t. You can’t replace dogs with people and get the same affective emotional reaction, so our job is to just create a sense of community in the lab for people where they feel cared about, and the dogs help us do this.”

For Binfet, this whole program is almost paradoxical as he has a fear of dogs, but personally witnessed the soothing impact they could have once he connected with his own rescue pooch.

“I would go across campus to get coffee and I would be besieged by students who would barely look at me and start interacting with the dog. Eventually, they would look up with these tear-filled eyes and they’d say ‘You know as much as I miss my parents, I miss my dog more’ and I thought, OK, there is a need here to develop a program to provide access to therapy dogs.”

Several dozen students joined in the most recent therapy dog lab on Friday with big smiles on their face.

“I love it so much — why have I not come before?” said one student.

“It really helps,” said another.

“It is a really nice stress relief,” said one more. “It is relaxing.”

Started in 2012, B.A.R.K. now boasts 70 volunteers, 45 therapy dogs and is used by 30 per cent of the student population.

“It is a way I can give back in helping students get that puppy love again,” said B.A.R.K. dog handler Heidi Maddess. “She (her pup) is doing awesome, she loves it. She feels so special when she puts on her vest and comes to work.”

A sentiment shared by another dog handler.

“You can just see that Oscar absolutely loves it,” said B.A.R.K. Dog handler Michael Bandyo. “As soon as he puts the vest on, he takes it as a job. The kids come and they pet him and they call him by name and I think he is a bit of a celebrity on campus now!”

While student welfare is key for the program, Binfet ensures the dogs are enjoying themselves as well.

“I look at dog stress. I want to ensure it is a good experience for the dogs, that their welfare is at the forefront too,” said Binfet. “We actually sent a dog home tonight who wasn’t settling. My job is to ensure everyone is OK, including the student clients, the dog handlers and the dogs themselves.”

Binfet said he is also working to break the image that only golden retrievers can be therapy dogs as he works with a local rescue to provide dogs in all shapes, colours and sizes.

In fact, more than 60 per cent of the therapy dogs in the program are from Paws it Forward Dog Rescue.

“Pure bred golden retrievers certainty can be great therapy dogs, but the mutt off the street or off a reserve or a second-hand dog can do wonderful therapeutic work,” said Binfet.

“The people will come to the lab and they will go to the dog that reminds them the most of their childhood dog and that is tough to predict. So, we have a lot of diversity.

“It is all about adopt don’t shop.”

To learn more about the BARK program head to barkubc.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Five properties have been added to the Lake Country fire protection zone, after council moved to expand the local service area Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Google Maps)
Lake Country expands fire protection zone, covering 5 exposed properties

The properties petitioned to join the local service area after being left out ‘for reasons unknown’

VSAR’s Air Rescue One unit assisted in a rescue in West Kelowna May 3, 2021. (VSAR screenshot)
VIDEO: VSAR’s Air Rescue One team assists in West Kelowna Rescue

The Vernon Search and Rescue helicopter team pulled off a successful rescue Monday

Peachland resident and cleanup volunteer Lloyd Stinson Sotas holds up a discarded TV riddled with bullet holes. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
PHOTOS: Peachland residents clean up community watershed

More than 70 people gave back to Mother Earth by assisting with the cleanup

Kelowna Toyota is located at 1200 Leathead Road. (BLack Press Media file)
Kelowna Toyota’s auto service department closed due to COVID-19 exposure

The dealership’s sales department is still open and is operating under regular business hours

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Kelowna OK Tire closed due to COVID-19 exposure

The business will remain closed until May 11

Two e-scooters parked on the sidewalk along Water Street in downtown Kelowna on Monday, May 3. Scooters parked on walkways are causing accessibility issues for some people with disabilities. (Michael Rodriguez/Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick summary of the stories that made an impact from May 3 to 5

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

City of Vernon Coun. Dalvir Nahal proposed two blocks of Main Street be closed to bolster recovery for downtown businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)
Vernon’s ‘support local’ Main Street closure would cost city $24K, staff say

Bylaw costs, loss of parking revenue and equipment logistics behind price tag

Officials are surveying the streets of Vernon to get a better sense of the issue of homelessness in the city, as part of the province’s point-in-time homeless count for 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Province conducts homeless count in Vernon

It’s the first time Vernon has been included in the provincial homeless count

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A proposed development would see two four-storey affordable housing complexes erected on Adair Street in Armstrong, next to the Nor-Val Arena. (Google Maps)
Local tenants to be prioritized for Armstrong affordable housing project

Staff have drafted an expression of interest to find a developer to move forward with on the project

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

Most Read