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Reducing stress through the power of pets

University can be the catalyst for the best of times, but also for the most stressful of times.

Many students are away from home, balancing busy academic schedules with budding social lives and more than likely missing their favourite pet.

Building Academic Retention through K9’s (B.A.R.K.) is a program created and run by Dr. John Tyler Binfet. After relocating from L.A. for a position in UBCO’s Faculty of Education, Dr. Binfet couldn’t help but notice the popularity of his dog Francis on campus.

<who> Photo Credit: B.A.R.K.'s Facebook </who> Dr. Binfet has brought the B.A.R.K. program to UBCO and the local community.

"I would go from my office to the Starbucks on campus and would be completely mobbed by students,” said Dr. Binfet.

But the students weren’t exactly interested in their new faculty member.

“They would barely acknowledge me and would just start interacting with my dog Francis,” laughed Dr. Binfet.

<who> Photo Credit: B.A.R.K.'s Facebook </who> The goal of the program in to reduce stress and homesickness in students.

“Then the students would look at me with these tear-filled eyes and tell me as much as they miss their parents and siblings, they actually miss their dogs the most."

The phenomenon inspired Dr. Binfet to create the B.A.R.K. program at UBCO.

B.A.R.K. has exploded with popularity on campus, with over 30% of the student populace using the program as a cure for stress and homesickness.

“Residence and campus life is so much fun I don’t miss home too often,” said first-year Arts student Stephani Jones.

“But I miss my family dog Barkley constantly!”

<who> Photo Credit: B.A.R.K.'s Facebook </who> B.A.R.K. has quickly become the most popular stress relief program on the campus.

The program begins at the start of the school year and runs throughout the semester with Friday drop in sessions and a BARK2GO program where dogs are stationed throughout the UBCO campus for students to interact with.

“I go to the drop-in sessions to unwind after a long week,” said Jones.

“The dogs really improve your mood and I feel like it’s a mutually beneficial relationship between the people and the animals.”

Students have multiple on-campus options to escape the academic grind like intramural sports, the health and wellness centre, meditation groups or joining one of the many clubs or activities.

<who> Photo Credit: B.A.R.K.'s Facebook </who> The 45 dogs in the program are largely from local rescue programs.

“Honestly, from what we hear, kids by and large choose to use the B.A.R.K. program as their favourite option for stress relief," said Dr. Binfet.

So what does a B.A.R.K. session look like?

The sessions are run by volunteers who greet the students and perform a pre and post session stress evaluation on them.

“The volunteers and handlers are super positive and encourage hand on interaction with the dogs,” said Jones.

The program has 45 dogs that participate in the drop-in sessions and Bark2Go.

<who> Photo Credit: B.A.R.K.'s Facebook </who> B.A.R.K. dogs come in all shapes and sizes.

“We believe that therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes and are not just pure-bred golden retrievers,” said Dr. Binfet.

"We strongly support rescue work and we work with a rescue group called Paws It Forward, which is a local rescue program here in the Okanagan, about 60% of our dogs come from Paws It Forward.”

Many of the students who visit a B.A.R.K. session often become volunteers and the program’s volunteers often end up working with B.A.R.K. for their entire time at UBCO.

The program is also expanding to work with different groups in the community like the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre and kids with disabilities.

“I always say, dog people are good people” reminds Dr. Binfet.

B.A.R.K. will host its final drop in session of the year this Friday December 2nd at 4:30.

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