Therapy Dog Awareness Month

It’s Therapy Dog Awareness Month, a time to pay tribute to all the canine companions who provide comfort and therapeutic support to those whose lives are often compromised by emotional, physical or mental disorders.

At Calvary, we’re honoured to be able to provide this support to our patients, residents and clients through our growing network of volunteers and therapy dog owners, some providing professional therapeutic services whilst others simply through their presence and calming, physical interactions between patients and animal.

elderly man sitting in armchair stroking large white sheepdog

This month, we’re celebrating the difference these inspiring people and their four-legged companions make to the lives of those in our care through a series of stories, bio profiles and blog posts.

Follow their stories below and through our social media via the links below:

Calvary Kooyong Volunteer Group

It’ll come as no surprise that the relationship shared between a human and dog is truly one of a kind and almost indescribable. Whether you have your own dog or not, you are likely to have experienced first-hand the difference these animals can make in human lives.

labrador wearing multicolour tutu sits with smiling lady in armchair

There are no boundaries – regardless of size and breed – therapy dogs play a vital role in providing comfort, companionship and even emotional support. From improving motivation and moods to bringing people together, these special creatures are so important to those who are suffering.

Bayside Companion Training School

At our Calvary Kooyong precinct, the team experience first-hand how the mood picks up around the place when the therapy dog volunteer group come to visit.

Led by Terry Lack, who is president of the Bayside Companion Training School, the group consists of Terry’s Rottweiler Ruby, Anne and her Poodle Evie, Keith and his Sheep Dog Cross Charley girl, and Jenny with her Labrador Lizzie.

Calvary Kooyong Volunteer group stand in the courtyard at Huntly Suites with their therapy dogs

Left to right: Jenny and Labrador Lizzie, Anne and Poodle Evie, Terry with Rottweiler Ruby and Keith with Sheep Dog Cross Charley girl

With regular visits to the Bethlehem Hospital wing and Huntly Suites for aged care residents, they all make note of how life-changing their experiences have been.

“All we do is walk around the precinct to visit as many people as we can, allowing them to pat and cuddle the dogs,” Terry says. “It sounds like such a simple thing, but it provides both patients and residents with the opportunity to develop a deeper, emotional connection with the animals.”

Therapeutic enjoyment for those living with MND

Helen Sheedy, a patient of our Bethlehem Hospital, has developed a particularly beautiful relationship with Ruby. Only diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND) 6 weeks ago, Helen’s experience with therapy dogs has been unforgettable. “A visit really cheers me up. It’s so therapeutic for someone like me who spends a lot of time in bed,” she says.

Despite all having varying experience with dog therapy, the group agrees that for anyone who is thinking about becoming involved themselves to not hesitate. The advice is simple, if you have a quiet, well-mannered dog to just do it, you won’t regret it.


Calvary St Luke’s Hospital | Launceston

Owner, Edwina, sits with Tilly, the terrier therapy dog

Large or small, they are on the job most days in many of Calvary’s hospitals and aged care homes around the country, bringing comfort and support wherever they go.

Unconditional love and big hugs at Tilly time

Like Tilly, who visits palliative care patients and their families on the Melwood palliative care ward at Calvary St Luke’s Hospital in Launceston.

Owner and handler Edwina Colvin said Tilly provides the sort of unconditional love that only a dog can give.

“Tilly is a calm, well behaved little dog who enjoys people, and is very gentle with them,” said Edwina, a retired physiotherapist.

 “She has a really calming effect for many people and seems attuned to what people need.

“She has a marvelous ability to relax on the bed – which is not permitted at home, so that is a real treat! She is very happy to just lie there for as long as she is asked to, and she seems to be able to judge what she needs to do or how close she needs to be to someone for their comfort.

“She can spark a conversation, or she can help people doze. I never question the benefits therapy dogs can bring to people’s health and wellbeing,” Edwina said

Award-winning support

Edwina, who has previously won a Tasmanian Palliative Care Award for her role, says she gets as much as she gives from being the person at the end of Tilly’s lead.

“Being a patient can be hard, and so many are very unwell,” Edwina said. “We hope that having Tilly sit with them for a while might just make a small difference to someone’s day. I had one patient tell me that being able to cuddle a dog made them feel loved – it was like receiving a huge hug.”

Edwina is one of 12 volunteers with Launceston’s Specialist Palliative Care service providing support to those on the Melwood Unit.

Acting Nurse Unit Manager Paije Turnbull agrees that Tilly has a positive impact.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone unhappy to see Tilly. You see that smile and it is just lovely,” said Paije.

“Animal therapy has really positive effects on people, more I think than we will every really know.”

Research suggests that, among other benefits, therapy dogs can prompt an automatic relaxation response, reducing feelings of anxiety and lowering blood pressure and stress levels.


Volunteer at Calvary

If you’d like to join our team of volunteers and make a difference to the lives of those in our care, visit our Volunteers page.

Two golden retrievers sat next to each other next to their owner.

Berry, Janey & Heidi

My name is Berry and my furry friends are two Golden Retrievers named Janey and Heidi.

These two are my second pair of dogs. Prior I had Tarni and Brandy, also Golden Retrievers. Sadly, Tarni passed away on May last year aged 11 and Brandi passed away this May from old age. She was 17.

older man with white hair and white t shirt stands next to two golden retriever dogs

Q. Which Calvary location/service do you provide services to?

Calvary Adelaide Hospital and Calvary Central Districts.

Q. How long have you been providing dog therapy visits/sessions?

I have been doing this volunteer role since late 2018 and it is the most satisfying position. Both staff and patients love the dogs and never fails to put a smile on people’s faces.

Describe what sort of activities or therapeutic engagement you provide.

Many patients miss their dogs at home and seeing a couple of dogs in hospital that they can cuddle brightens their day and puts a smile on their face.

What made you want to start providing dog therapy sessions? Was there a particular life event or person that inspired you?

I’m the secretary of the Gepps Cross Dog Training Centre. In 2018 the hospital approached several obedience clubs through Sharon Taylor. An obedience instructor appointed to establish a team. I had two Golden Retrievers that where trained . The dogs were assessed as suitable, and I have been doing it twice weekly since that time.

What do you enjoy most about providing dog therapy?

Just enjoy the pleasure the dogs give both the staff and patients.

What advice would you give to someone considering dog therapy?

Just do it, you’ll never regret the volunteer role.

Bernadette, Teila & Alys

I’m Bernadette and these are my two Corgis, Alys (8) and mum, Teila (13).

I’ve had Corgis for 20+ years and used to show them before I got into breeding.

Lady in red jacket holds two corgis on leads during outdoor therapy session

Q. Which Calvary location/service do you provide services to?

Calvary Adelaide Hospital

Q. How long have you been providing dog therapy visits/sessions?

About three years. I was at Dog training with Alys and mentioned that she enjoys being with people and other dogs – very sociable. One of the trainers was a therapy dog coordinator so she invited us to come in and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Describe what sort of activities or therapeutic engagement you provide.

We mainly walk around to rooms and ask if patients would like a dog visitor. People give the dogs pats and talk about their own animals, often having been in hospital a long time and missing their own pets.

Nursing staff love it too!

What do you enjoy most about providing dog therapy?

Bringing smiles, I get a lot of pleasure out of doing it – it’s just a really nice thing to do.

What advice would you give to someone considering dog therapy?

If you’re thinking of doing it – just do it.

People are stuck in hospital missing their own pets so why  not give some joy to other people.

One particular time, an elderly Corgi breeder I knew was in hospital so I surprised her with a visit and she was ever so thrilled to see them. While I was up in that area I was asked to stop in to visit a lady who needed some cheering up.  Afterwards she said, “you’ve made my day!”

Caitlyn & Lila

After adopting Lila 7 years ago it quickly became apparent that she was a special girl. She loves people and is very loving and comforting.

I told my children’s school about her and suggested that Lila volunteer as a dog to be read to by students to increase their reading confidence and motivation to read. Lila worked at Magill Primary for about 2 years and also made a few visits to Ardtornish Primary.

I also contacted some local nursing homes & suggested the residents might like a dog visitor. Lila was happily welcomed to Wynwood Nursing home where she also visited for about 2 years.

Hospital visits were then considered and I discovered how well organised The Calvary Hospital is with its volunteer program.

Q. Which Calvary location/service do you provide services to?

Calvary North Adelaide, Clare Ward.

Q. How long have you been providing dog therapy visits/sessions?

We have been visiting Calvary for 3 years now.

Describe what sort of activities or therapeutic engagement you provide.

Emotional connection, a distraction and some company.

What made you want to start providing dog therapy sessions? Was there a particular life event or person that inspired you?

I wanted to make a positive difference in people’s wellbeing. Lila also loves people and I give her the best life I’m able to.

What do you enjoy most about providing dog therapy?

Seeing people’s mood lift when they see Lila and connect with her.

What advice would you give to someone considering dog therapy?

Know that you can make a difference and it will benefit you as well as other people.

Calvary Ryde Aged Care



They might be man’s best friends, but some very special dogs also spend their time breaking down barriers, bringing joy and connection, giving comfort and support, and calming anxious minds and spirits.

September is Therapy Dog Awareness Month and Calvary is highlighting the incredible roles therapy dogs play in health and aged care.

Large or small, they are on the job most days in many of Calvary’s hospitals and aged care homes. Accompanied by their trusty, and often volunteer handlers, these special pooches gift unconditional love and support wherever they go.

Like Bede and Brigid, who double as pastoral care assistants with owner and handler Michael Schiano, a pastoral care worker at Calvary Ryde’s aged care home and retirement community in Sydney.


Michael and his two west highland terrier therapy dogs sit on a park bench together

There is an intuitive connection between dogs and people

Michael has seen firsthand the healing power of dogs at Calvary Ryde and elsewhere, and thinks of his West Highland Terriers, or Westies, as “angels in disguise”.

“There’s just something about dogs,” he says. “It’s hard to put into words sometimes but I think there is an intuitive connection between dogs and people. Dogs know things.”

The list of therapeutic benefits is long.

Two old ladies sit and smile whilst playing with small white dog

They are conversation starters between Michael and the residents and amongst residents who might otherwise be strangers, or who may have forgotten they have met before. They help build connections and a sense of community. They bring joy and pleasure, warmth and touch. They prompt reminiscences and, for those living with dementia, long forgotten memories.  They provide companionship.

Emotional support

Michael has seen too how they have helped people who are grieving a loss, or feeling depressed or lonely. He has also seen how they can calm people’s anxieties or challenging behaviours.

Small white dog looks up at old lady in purple jumper

“There was one lady in our memory support unit who didn’t ever speak to me or make eye contact,” recalled Michael. “One day I decided to take Bede in with me and when I put him on her lap she spoke her first words to me. ’He’s a bonza boy,’ she said. “

And he is. Just two years old, Bede is both breaking hearts and mending hearts. Brigid, now 14, is the matriarch.

“They are very savvy, and they are very at home with people and people with them. They sense things. Sometimes they will cuddle in with people or sometimes they will know and just go and sit at someone’s feet.”

Woman sits at dining table next to small white dog

If you’d like to find out more about Calvary Ryde aged care home and retirement living in NSW, click here.