UBC Okanagan students benefit from four-legged therapists

A parade of pooches and children came through the UBC Okanagan campus Tuesday night.

But the unusual sight was welcomed by stressed-out university students studying for exams.

“They just render people at ease,” UBCO School of Education associate professor John-Tyler Binfet said of the dogs.

Binfet heads up UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention Through K9s (BARK) program.

“We’re a campus initiative that is changing the way we interact with dogs,” he said.

Over the last seven years, more than 4,000 student visits have been made by 60 curated dogs involved with BARK, according to Binfet.

“It’s one of the largest canine therapy groups in North America,” he said.

The BARK dogs and their handlers are guided through school common areas by 10 UBC Okanagan students and 22 children from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club.

The children, ages five through 12 years old, learn about compassion for animals and making better social interactions through an offshoot of BARK called Building Confidence Through K9s.

“You get to meet different dogs. You get to have different friendships between other people,” Lola Grace Andrews said.

“It’s fun,” said Jack Varney. “You get to meet dogs, shake people’s hands, meet new people: it’s just fun!”

The dogs are chosen through a screening and assessment process, according to Binfet.

Volunteer handlers spend about two hours with the program per week.

“The BARK dogs are not perfect by any means but they’re steady and grounded,” said Binfet.

The Building Confidence Through K9s is a pilot program which could be expanded across the province and country, according to Binfet.

The group meets up again Nov. 27 and will culminate the children’s participation with a graduation ceremony.

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