Lachie joins the pastoral care team

A former trainee guide dog is now bringing joy, comfort and emotional support to residents at Calvary Haydon aged care home in the Canberra suburb of Bruce as the newest member of the home’s pastoral care team.

Handsome black Labrador Lachie is now walking his rounds with Pastoral Care Coordinator Chris Dudfield who says Lachie is bringing a gentle spark to the residents’ daily lives and helping to open up opportunities for important and deeper conversations.

“At Calvary we look at the whole person, so our residents’ physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological and social needs are all important for us,” said Chris, who started the long process of securing his new recruit not long after starting in his pastoral care role a year ago.

“Part of what we do is to promote healing through connecting and building relationships – and Lachie is great at doing that. There is something different with a dog, they can elicit a different response from people.”

It is a sentiment echoed  by residents.

“I just think it is wonderful to have him,” said Judy Williamson. “A lot of people have had to leave a dog at home.

“I am so happy to know we have Lachie to pat and talk to. I think it is a really good idea. Especially a dog like this. Everybody loves to see him come in – those big eyes! It is a nurturing experience in life, and it’s about building new relationships as well.”

Fellow resident Mary Smith was thrilled to bits when she saw the sign saying a dog was coming in.

“I just love it when he comes in the door,” said Mary. “He looks at you with his big eyes and you start to pat him. He doesn’t expect or demand anything, he just loves it.  He lies on the floor beside you and you know you have a friend.

“We all have ups and downs, and some people don’t have anyone to come and visit. But you don’t have to worry, because you always have a friend, and that friend is Lachie.”

Not that Lachie is an ordinary dog. “He gets plenty of off-leash doggy time at home, but when he comes in the front door and puts on his Calvary jacket, he is a working dog,” Christopher said.

“He has had a high level of training and there is something very special about his demeanour. He is very chill and attentive and atuned to people. Sometimes he will be accepting a pat from a resident and if he senses their distress over something he will lay gently across their feet and just be with them. Or if they are bed-ridden, we will lower the bed where we can so that he can rest his head near their hand.

“He’s only been on the job about three weeks but the response has been terrific and so heartwarming, even from those residents who are living with different levels of dementia. His calm, gentle presence will spark a smile and a touch for some, or a memory or moment of clarity for others.

“And we are a team. Where I go, he goes, so it allows me to get to know the residents better and vice versa. Having Lachie helps to open up a connection and can bring people out of themselves so that they start to talk about things that might be on their mind. A burden shared can bring peace of mind.”

Chris and Lachie were brought together through Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s therapy dog program and each had to undergo thorough suitability checks, training and familiarisation.

“We are very lucky. Lachie had months and months of training as a Guide Dog and was top of his class but in the end he showed signs of not wanting to walk ahead and lead from the front, which Guide Dogs have to do of course. But he is very smart, so he was reassigned as a registered assistance dog and came to his new role with Calvary.”

And that, says Chris, is a win-win situation.