Photo provided by Courtney Vachon
Photo provided by Courtney Vachon

The B.A.R.K. Program Allows Students to Play with Dogs to De-Stress.

Having a supportive circle of family and friends is remarkably important to improving and sustaining one’s mental health, but during a busy exam season, these primary necessities are not always readily available. The B.A.R.K, or “Building Academic Retention through K9s” program allows students to de-stress by petting, playing and enjoying the presence of dogs.

Courtney Vachon, a new volunteer dog handler for B.A.R.K, brings her own dogs to the events because she realizes the impact they can have on someone who is struggling. “My dogs bring me so much joy,” Vachon said, “and I wanted to share that with others.”

“My dogs bring me so much joy, and I wanted to share that with others.”

Studies have found that dog owners are less prone to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Additionally, playing with a dog can lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormones while increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin, which calm and relax.

As a new student, university can be a jarring experience. Vachon commented on the importance of taking breaks and “taking a step back, relaxing and remembering how important it is to take care of yourself before you start jumbling all of those projects and assignments and midterms.” When the students come to B.A.R.K, Vachon states, “they're smiling and they're laughing and they're not talking about their assignments anymore."

The program allows students the opportunity to enjoy the presence and unconditional love of the dogs without the responsibility required as an owner.

Vachon says that B.A.R.K. is trying to combat the loneliness and isolation that many students identify with. With the presence of lovable dogs, people feel safe and secure. "It offers a safe and comfortable space and community for people, and that is so important for our mental health. To feel a sense of belonging and connection with [the dogs] or other students – to be part of a community,” Vachon explained, “because if you don't have that and you're suffering alone, then sometimes you kind of lose sight of what's out there, and these animals can actually be that support.”