PET THERAPY WONDERS
Bazil, Milo, Scooter and Abbey are fine examples of why many pet owners love dogs. They’re companions, friends and family members, and when they’re not behaving, there’s Learners on Lead owner Karen Johnston to turn to for help getting everyone back on the same page.
Being excellent learners of obedience is one reason why dogs get real jobs too – as assistance animals, for the police or defence forces, and even in drug detection.
Increasingly though, these four-legged friends are finding themselves excelling in the field of therapy, working with seniors in our residential care facilities.
Dubbo Photo News jumped at the chance for an exclusive look inside Holy Spirit Dubbo to see the heart-warming – and some say miraculous – results that two dogs in particular are achieving with residents, even sitting down with them to play bingo.
IT’S enough to stop anyone in their tracks when an elderly woman in residential care, who doesn’t speak or engage with others, suddenly starts calling out the name of a dog which makes regular visits.
Loneliness, depression, anxiety and confusion are common for people with dementia, but pet therapy can visibly help reduce these symptoms, calming anger and reducing helplessness and frustration which people living with dementia can experience.
Learners on Lead owner Karen Johnston regularly takes her black Labrador ‘Scooter’ to Holy Spirit Aged Care in Dubbo where she has seen the transformative effect interacting with a dog can ` have.
“It creates conversations with the residents. Even between visiting family members and their loved one who may not know them anymore,” Mrs Johnston told Dubbo Photo News.
“It helps them to talk. Often a dog will take them back to a happy memory of that pet and they’ll talk about those memories.
“They might just be sitting there all dull and nothing’s going on, but when the dog starts interacting it gives the person a purpose to interact, and you can see a return of awareness and joy for that time that they’re interacting with the dogs, which is lovely,” Mrs Johnston said.
Studies into the cardiovascular benefits of patting a dog have shown it lowers blood pressure significantly, much more so than a person to person interaction which aids socialisation and in turn helps self-esteem, independence, and reduced anxiety.
“In residential care there are needed interactions between staff and residents, like being helped to take a shower for example, or with dressing, but when a person with dementia interacts with a dog it’s the type of contact the person has control over, it’s a choice,” Mrs Johnston said.
Scooter is not the only four-legged visitor to Holy Spirit.
Recreational Activities Officer Matt Walsh regularly brings his border collie Indy and residents are used to sharing visits with both dogs.
Indy is even known to sit up at the table to join in with bingo!
◦ Dementia Action Week runs from September 16 to 22. Reach the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
◦ The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety visits Dubbo next week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, September 16, 17 and 18. Various times, 50-minute sessions, phone 1800 960 711 to book. Sessions held at the Milestone Hotel, Dubbo
Often a dog will take them back to a happy memory...
Above: Holy Spirit resident Eric Bolton, Scooter, Learners on Lead owner and trainer Karen Johnston, and resident Cheryl Bell. Right: Holy Spirit recreational activities officer Matt Walsh with Indy.