Pet Therapy

Research and studies have shown that there are many benefits to be gained by regular interaction with pets.  Some of these benefits are;

  • Decreased feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.
  • Lowered blood pressure and prevention and reduction of stress.
  • Lowered levels of cholesterol and certain types of fats.
  • Improved physical health due to exercise with the pet (especially dogs).
  • Seniors who own dogs visit the doctor less and use fewer medications.

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 dogs are usually in good health with the appropriate temperament and training. 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 and often nowadays are required to be covered by public liability insurance.

In addition to the benefits listed above, patients and residents (and their families and care staff) benefit from a pet therapy visit in the following ways;

  • Provides entertainment and education.
  • Distraction from pain and infirmity and their surroundings (often institutional).
  • Encourages social interaction.
  • Motivates physical movement, e.g. stroking and grooming the pet.
  • Encourages cognitive functions such as memory, emotions and speech.
  • The pet provides comfort and brings joy and happiness.
The animals give unconditional love and affection and ask for nothing in return.  Dogs in particular are very intuitive and know just what type of interaction an individual requires.  Every pet therapy visitor will have an amazing story to share.  There are many reports of patients who are non-communicative saying a few words to a dog or someone who is physically challenged reaching out an arm to stroke a furry back.  Pet therapy is a very rewarding undertaking and if you are looking for a dog to train as a therapy pet, Greyhounds are very well suited to the task.

Organisations in NSW operating Pet Therapy programmes and training are:

Velma’s Pets as Therapy   www.velmaspetsastherapy.com.au

The Delta Society   www.deltasocietyaustralia.com.au 

VELMA VIOLET HARRIS - FOUNDER AND MANAGER OF VELMA'S PETS AS THERAPY

“It has been my pleasure to train several greyhounds to work in pets as therapy.  Greyhounds appear to have a natural overall sense of calmness and balance and this helps people around them to feel the same.  Their gentleness makes them ideal around frail and challenged adults and children. 

The issues pertinent to training greyhounds for pets as therapy are:

  • Some prefer not to sit down. That is not required as either standing or lying down is adequate.
  • They are prone not to like steps or stairs although I know they can be trained to use steps, all health care facilities are built for wheel chairs so there will always be a ramp alternative to steps.  Some greyhounds are OK with lifts and others aren’t so sure.  However any dog can be trained to feel happy to use a lift using reward based, desensitisation training.

Generally greyhounds are an ideal breed to train for pets as therapy if their personality is to enjoy meeting strangers.  When I am asked by people wanting to get a dog for the purpose of pets as therapy greyhounds are amongst my recommended.”

 

MARTA AYLING AND HER EXPERIENCES OF PET THERAPY VISITING WITH GREYHOUND EMMA

Marta Ayling adopted greyhound Emma from a shelter as a 3 year old.  Along with golden retriever Julia, Emma was trained to be a therapy dog through the Velma’s Pets as Therapy programme and visited for two years.

Emma made monthly home visits to two young boys who were physically and mentally handicapped. The boys aged 4 and 8 years were in wheelchairs but were placed on a floor mat with cushions to enable better interaction with Emma.  The visits were fully supervised to ensure both the safety of the boys and the dog and Emma calmly accepted everything.  One of the boys would use licking as a way to identify objects in his world until one day he bit Emma’s ear.  Although she yelped she did not react in any other way.  Her gentle quiet presence would rub off on to the children and her visits also provided therapy and relaxation for the family.



Another of Emma’s regular clients was a 99 year old lady living in an apartment in a private retirement home.  Emma would sit or stand calmly beside the bed or chair whilst the lady caressed her head.  Marta recalls doing a walk through visit at a retirement village where many of the residents really liked greyhounds.  As she walked past one room she heard an elderly lady screaming loudly and quickly moved away with Emma.  Once the carers were able to calm the lady they discovered that as a child she had lived near a greyhound training track in Victoria and would often see trainers walking four or five dogs at a time.  When she was naughty her mother used to say that the greyhounds would be let off to chase her so she had developed a lifelong fear of them.  The lady’s carers explained to her about Emma and showed her some photos.  She eventually agreed to look at Emma from a distance.  The lady ended up patting the dog and slowly her confidence grew.  After that there was a special request for Emma to visit her room every time she came to the retirement village.

 

Marta would exercise Emma prior to going on her visits so she would get her ‘zoomies” out of her system then she would be quiet and calm, allowing herself to be patted continually.  She was never a particularly interactive dog while visiting but nothing would phase her.  The greyhound’s height made it easy for clients lying or sitting to reach her.  Pet Therapy dogs are usually trained to entertain their clients with various tricks but Emma “did not do tricks”.  She just shared her beautiful presence with the people she visited and this would often encourage them to reminisce about their past and dogs they had owned.  Unfortunately Emma could not cope with climbing stairs or travelling in elevators so she could only visit on ground floor facilities.  Julia the golden retriever would often do the visits to the rooms on the upper floors.

Emma is now a contented 10 year old and has retired as a therapy dog so she can concentrate on her favourite pastime of sleeping and dreaming about the joy she brought so many people on her therapy visits.



DAISY - THE STORY OF A RESIDENTIAL THERAPY DOG

Some cats and dogs instead of being just visitors are actually permanent residential therapy pets.  Daisy is one such greyhound.  Daisy had a fairly average racing career and upon her retirement she came into the GAP programme.  It was soon clear that her sunny nature, gentle ways and love of people would make her a great therapy dog. 

In 2009 Macarthur House residential care facility at Campbelltown (owned and operated by IRT) contacted GAP to enquire about adopting a dog and Daisy was the perfect candidate.  The staff and residents were very supportive and excited at the prospect of having a resident dog and after a settling in period to ensure it was the right environment for Daisy, she was officially adopted.  Daisy is taken to work daily by her carer (a staff member) and continues to entertain and bring joy to the staff, the residents and their families.  As a result of Daisy’s charisma and her role at the facility, several people she has met have gone on to adopt greyhounds of their own.

A Day In The Life Of Daisy
Daisy arrives for work at 7:30am. Some of the residents come down to visit her once they have had their breakfast. She really enjoys these visits, hoping that the residents bring something to eat with them.

One of the residents stays with daisy all day long- talking to her, playing with her and sometimes just catching a bit of sun next to her. Daisy loves to curl up next to the residents when they are watching a movie. She normally lies on the floor but, with a little prompting from the residents, will occasionally be found on the lounge.  Daisy gets taken around to visit the residents regularly. They pat her and make a fuss of her (Daisy loves this). She walks into their rooms and buries her head in their laps.
 


Daisy has also visited the beach with the residents. The residents enjoyed watching Daisy as she ran up and down the beach and into the water with another dog.  The residents like to take their families out to the courtyard to visit Daisy. She is always happy to meet new people.  In between all of this, Daisy manages to find some time to sleep and play with her toys.

At 4pm Daisy is ready, waiting at the door to go home with a staff member for the night. She has her dinner and curls up by the fire to get some shut eye before another busy day.