Therapy Dog Awareness Month
1st September 2023
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Calvary Ryde Aged Care
MICHAEL, BEDE & BRIGID
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
If you’d like to find out more about Calvary Ryde aged care home and retirement living in NSW, click here.