UBCO's BARK program visits seniors at Kelowna retirement home

Dogs show love to seniors

Sarita Patel

What better way to spend Valentine's Day than with some puppy love.

UBCO's Building Academic Retention Through K9s (BARK) program visited the Missionwood Retirement Resort Friday afternoon to spend Valentine's Day with local seniors. 

BARK is a dog therapy program under the direction of UBC professor John Tyler Binfet.

The programs bring together university students, 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.

Binfet started BARK eight years ago at UBCO, which is currently the only school to have such a program. 

"It really meets the social and emotional needs of the students at UBC and our job at UBC is really to support all facets of learning."

Binfet says students who have low stress and who are connected to others on campus make better students and are overall happier.  

Alyson Hryniuk has been a volunteer handler for BARK for the past three years with her golden retriever, Abby. She joined the program after her son told her about his experience with a dog visit while he was away from home for university.

"It's always a beautiful thing, with the seniors or students at UBCO to have some stress and have some dog lovers, when they're missing their dogs from home."

Hryniuk believes first-year students deal with a lot of stress — especially those who move away from home.  

This was the first time BARK visited a retirement centre and Binfet says the success of the day makes him believe they'll be back. Many Missionwood residents came into the party room to play with a dozen dogs and celebrated with cake and coffee.  

"I can see the smiles and the energy and just how people come alive to tell their stories of when they had their dogs," says Geri Eakins, a volunteer handler for BARK. 

Eakins has been with BARK since 2012 and has brought two dogs through the program. 

More Kelowna News