UBC Okanagan’s canine-assisted therapy program brings extra love to retirement resort
While some may greet February 14 with a groan, others wag their tails at the opportunity to show their love. To celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention through K9s (BARK) program’s student volunteers, six dogs and their handlers spent part of Friday afternoon visiting with the Missionwood Retirement Resort’s residents.
“We’re a pet-friendly resort and our residents find joy in watching the dogs,” says John Eakins, general manager of Missionwood Retirement Resort. Eakins is also a BARK volunteer with his dog, Doogle. “We knew when we invited BARK and connected the dogs, students and residents that it would be a special event. The residents love connecting with the younger generation.”
The occasional “good dog” could be heard above the chatter as behind the ear scratches and belly rubs were doled out. Volunteers and residents shared stories about their life experiences and loved ones.
“It wasn’t a great day until I came here,” smiles Diane, a resort resident. “I love dogs.”
That comment became BARK student volunteer, Romina Amirsardari’s most memorable moment from the event.
“It was really nice to witness that BARK brought happiness to people, and I was lucky to be a part of it,” says Amirsardari. “As a student, I am mostly in contact with people of my age; however the event gave me the opportunity to break the generation gap and bring joy and happiness to not just students but also to the community, especially the elderly.”
This is the first time the BARK program has visited a retirement resort. BARK sessions are typically held on campus to bring together university students and trained therapy dogs and handlers in an effort to reduce stress, combat homesickness, foster interpersonal connections and promote the overall social-emotional well-being of students.
“Community is integral to the BARK program,” says John-Tyler Binfet, Okanagan School of Education, Associate Professor and BARK Director. “Our volunteer community handlers enrich the learning environment for our students, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Kelowna RCMP. Community engagement truly enhances every aspect of what I do as a researcher at UBC.”
Student volunteer, Lucas Spielman echoed the community sentiment. Spielman is a Physics major and has been volunteering with BARK for four years.
“In my first year I started coming to BARK and I enjoyed the people and dogs,” says Spielman. “Everyone was so friendly.” He added that the event at the resort was no different from a regular BARK session with friendly people wanting to chat – and a lot of fun!
Slobbery kisses from new furry friends certainly made this Valentine’s Day a little bit brighter for some students and resort residents.
Learn more about program and ways to support BARK at barkubc.ca.