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.

Just Posted

Snow tonight in Kelowna

The snowfall will continue through the week

Kelowna, Lake Country boundary has odd history with old whiskey distillery

Coun. Bill Scarrow is still advocating for a boundary change

Sellers Market T.V. show returns to Kelowna

They are now looking for homeowners that want to be featured on the show

Water quality advisory rescinded for West Kelowna Estates

There are no water advisories in effect in West Kelowna at this time

Cookies and puppies at the Kelowna BC SPCA

The Kelowna BC SPCA is hosting it’s annual Christmas bake sale on Dec. 15

Sicamous behind as Sled Town Showdown enters its final day

Tumbler ridge enjoys a three-digit lead as the online contest nears its conclusion

Small quake recorded west of Vancouver Island

No injuries or tsunami warning after 5.4 rumble felt some 400 kilometres from Victoria

B.C. suspends Chinese portion of Asian forestry trade mission due to Huawei arrest

Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained at the request of U.S. in Vancouver

Canadians spent $1.7 billion dollars online in December 2017

Online retail sales accounted for 3.4 per cent of total retail sales

2-year investigations nets $900,000 in refunds for payday loan customers

Consumer Protection BC says selling practices were ‘aggressive and deceptive’

China: Canada’s detention of Huawei exec ‘vile in nature’

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet company

Judge rules private landowners can’t block public access to B.C. lake

The Nicola Valley ranch’s position was that it owned Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake

Half of Canada’s chinook salmon populations in decline: scientists

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada says some are in danger of disappearing

Most Read