KAMLOOPS — As she prepares for her first Special Olympic basketball game, Kayla Polege lays on the floor with her arms wrapped around Skye, an Australian labradoodle therapy dog.
"He's very friendly and he feel like my dog that I have at home. He lets me bury my face in him like my dog does, so that's really nice," noted Polege. ""I think dogs are magic. They have magic feel-better powers."
The calming presence of the dogs put those sometimes anxious athletes at ease before they compete.
"It's really good, especially after last night. Last night was really busy and it was really hard, so the dogs are very helpful and calming," said Polege.
Adrienne Ganton is Skye's handler on the first day of the Winter Games, but the 32 therapy dogs have been all over the city. They greeted athletes who arrived to register on Thursday at McArthur Island and were at the Sandman Centre prior to the opening ceremony.
It's the first time the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program has been part of a B.C. Games.
"Today has bene absolutely overwhelming," said Ganton. "I couldn't be happier with the athletes and their interaction with the dogs, and just the positivity."
However, the dogs are not only there for the athletes but also for the coaches.
"It's a good thing because for us who are sleep-derived, caffine-deprived, it's just a nice way to come in and sit down, get cuddles, regroup, then go back out and give all that energy back to the athletes," said coach Lorraine Griffith.
The athletes love it. Nitesh Bushnam is a Special Olympic basketball player from Surrey and volunteers at the SPCA branch there. He said he loves the therapy dogs being here.
"Really happy because it's so cute," he said. "I had a cat a long time ago, but I kind of miss that love."
Therapy dogs like Skye will be at the dorms at night to put the athletes at ease before bed. The hope is, this pilot project at the 2018 B.C. Winter Games expands into other competitions around the province and maybe beyond.
"I really hope so. It's been very encouraging," said Ganton. "It's been such a positive experience for the dogs, for the handlers, and for the athletes and coaches, so we really hope that this spreads to other Games in B.C."
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