Pet therapy (also known as animal-assisted therapy) is a general term for therapeutic activities involving animals as companions or visitors to the sick, elderly or disabled. The animals are usually healthy dogs with the appropriate temperament and training however other animals can be used. Pet therapy visitors are often volunteers and will usually undergo the relevant training along with their pet. They visit people of all ages in hospitals, care facilities and private homes. Research and studies have shown that interaction with animals can have many physical and psychological benefits to humans. (See our activities section on Pet Therapy for more information.)
Greyhounds gentle manner, calm nature and size make them ideal candidates as therapy dogs providing the individual has the appropriate personality and temperament. Greyhound Bobby is the first Greenhound to become a pet therapy dog.
Whelped in October 2007, Bobby raced under the name Vegas Raider and had a successful career on the track. He had 31 starts throughout NSW and his career prize money totalled $22,600. When Bobby was retired in 2011, his owners enrolled him with the GRNSW Greyhounds As Pets program in order to find him a new life in a pet home. He was re-homed to the Clasies and is now an integral part of the family. Bobby became a Greenhound in May this year and has gone on to add Delta Therapy Dog to his resume.
Bobby’s owner Hannah Clasie tells their story.
“We got Bobby in August 2011, so nearly a year ago from the day I'm writing this and what a wonderful year it's been. It's like he's been here forever. If we didn't have a photo of him winning at Wentworth Park hanging up in the dining room then I'd be questioning if he really was an ex-racer.
Our requirements when we were first looking for a greyhound was he or she had to be great with kids, as we have two under seven, and also good with small dogs as our Italian Greyhound, Wicket, was just about to turn 13 and is deaf and nearly blind. Well, the almost four-year-old Bobby couldn't have matched these requirements any better. I spoke to his owner/trainer soon after we got him and she said he had always been great with children.
It was only after we'd had Bobby for about three months that my Mum told me she was going to put in an application for one of her dogs to become a Pets as Therapy dog through a group called Delta Society Australia and she thought I should do the same with Bob, so I did. The next assessing day wasn't until March 2012 so we would have had Bob for about seven months.
February came around and I thought I'd better have a closer look at what Bobby and I would be assessed on in March. That was the first time that I noticed the words "get your dog to sit"...hmmmm, slight problem as I'd never even seen Bobby sit, let alone do it when asked to. So out came the clicker and a bucket load of treats and a sit was taught with a week to spare, phew!
On the day of the assessment the first thing the assessor said to us was "we never make sighthounds sit"...dammit. You'll be pleased to know that Bob sat anyway while I left him with the assessor to walk away for a minute. He was seeing if he could get this man to give him a treat no doubt! Needless to say we passed and we are now officially a Delta Therapy Dog team with our bright red outfits. Bob got a very smart bandana and I got a polo shirt.
We started visiting an aged care facility in May this year. We only go once a fortnight as it's pretty exhausting for Bob although I'm sure he'd manage to do it daily as long as the treats and pats held out. Our visit takes just over an hour to go round and see about 40 or 50 residents including about 10 in the dementia ward which is our favourite place to visit because there's a lady in there that gets such a look of joy on her face when she sees Bobby come in. We stay with her for a bit longer than everyone else as she doesn't respond to a lot of things but she just loves having her hands on Bobby. She never talks but I can see she gets a lot out of it.
Some of the elderly residents remember Bobby when he comes to visit. Some tell me the same stories about their dogs each time I see them. Some have no idea who we are from week to week. Some have special doggy treats to give Bobby when he comes in. He knows which rooms the treats are in by the way. He's only tried to get on one bed, he's only tried to play with one sheepskin rug and he's only lain down in the hallway and refused to get up once so we're doing well. We've also discovered that lifts are way better than scary echoey stairwells and that Bobby's newly acquired green collar goes very well with his red bandana.”
Delta Society Australia is always looking for new Therapy Dog volunteers. Go to www.deltasociety.com.au or call the national office on (02) 9797 7922 to find out more.