Pet therapy bringing joy to aged care
The old saying ‘a dog is for life’ takes on a whole new meaning at Bupa Berry, with visiting pets drawing out plenty of life and emotion from residents.
Debbie Sheedy, a Lifestyle Officer at Bupa Aged Care Berry in NSW, has always loved dogs, and when she did a straw poll of her residents to see how many had previously owned pets, Debbie was staggered by the response.
“Nearly 90% of all residents told me they’d had pets at some stage during their lives, so when I asked whether it would be nice to have a pet come along and visit, the response was overwhelmingly ‘yes’,” Debbie says.
To help bring this idea to life, Debbie engaged Paws Pet Therapy, a charitable organisation that trains volunteers and their dogs to provide specialised pet therapy for people with a variety of needs.
“Our first visitor was Bear, a lovely Golden Retriever with such a soft and loving personality. We got the residents to sit in a circle and then walked Bear around, introducing him to all, and the looks on their faces were amazing,” says Debbie.
“Some of our residents at Bupa Berry are quite reserved and don’t show a lot of emotion,” says Debbie. “But when we bring animals into the home, it instantly brings out the love and affection in people, and that is something truly magical.”
Some of our residents at Bupa Berry are quite reserved and don’t show a lot of emotion,” says Debbie. “But when we bring animals into the home, it instantly brings out the love and affection in people, and that is something truly magical.
Research supports the many health benefits of having pets, which include reduced chance of having a heart attack, lower blood pressure and even higher self-esteem.
Pet Therapy, or Animal Assisted Therapy as it’s sometimes known, is a form of treatment designed to improve a person’s social, emotional or cognitive functioning. Dogs from Paws Pet Therapy have helped people in many ways since it was established in 2012, from encouraging children to read at local library programs, to comforting those undertaking chemotherapy at cancer centres.
But at Bupa Berry, it’s all about bringing smiles to the faces of the residents!
“One lady at Bupa Berry is very reserved and she typically sits on her own and won’t participate in many of our activities,” explains Debbie. “But then my Blue Staffy Terrier, Odin, started visiting on Sundays, and now everyday this lady asks me how Odin is, she has a photograph of him in her wheelie walker and when Odin arrives to say hi on a Sunday, this lady’s face just totally lights up.
"To see that response in someone, with such a big smile on her face, makes me feel that I have fulfilled a need that she had been lacking for some time.”
There is now quite a rolling program of pets visiting at Bupa Berry, from Meg, a Paws Pet Therapy Border Collie who visits once a month, to Princess Grace, a miniature Chihuahua who arrives at the dementia area fortnightly to even a local cat named Roger, who has decided to get in on the act, wandering across the road each day to say hi. “We give Roger’s owner a call each time he visits, just to let him know he’s safe and in good hands with our residents,” laughs Debbie.
Odin’s magic touch also worked on another resident, who has since passed, who was very agitated during a recent visit from her daughter. When the lady’s legs started moving constantly, Odin wandered over and placed his paws on her feet, instantly calming the situation, before then just resting his head on her legs, so they could both relax.
Bupa Windsor in Victoria has long welcomed pets into the home, from General Manager Lisa Myers’ poodle Evie who visits daily, to Christal who arrived with owner Rosemary to live at Bupa Windsor permanently.
“We welcomed that, because Christal was very much a part of Rosemary’s life, and I feel that has kept Rosemary young,” Lisa says.