In home pet support is more than walking dogs

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Animal Care for Seniors at Home Cairns Inc. (ACSAH) is a 100% volunteer run organisation that operates in Cairns in Far North Queensland, providing free in-home pet support to older and infirm people who are unable to provide the care they would like for their pets at home.”

ACSAH was founded 10 years ago by Tricia Miles, who saw the need in the community to help older adults with pet care – from assisting with administering medication and washing pets to walking dogs and transporting pets to the vet and other tasks.

Having begun with the support of like-minded people and community service provider St Johns Community Care, and under the leadership of Margaret Cochrane, ACSAH progressed to become a stand-alone Incorporated Association in 2017.

Today, the group has 77 volunteers working to meet the needs of approximately 75 ageing pet owners living in their own homes!

Knowing the importance of having a pet and being able to help others with their pet care are the reasons why Leanne Bartlett volunteers.  Leanne has been volunteering with ACSAH for eight years and is the current President as well as the Southern Zone Coordinator.

Leanne’s husband Graham Wilson (past ACSAH President) also volunteers as a carer and is Treasurer of the organisation.

“Our carers help with basic tasks involved in caring for a client's pet. Animal care is not just about walking dogs,” says Leanne.

Volunteers take pets to the vet or groomer, clean kitty trays and bird cages, bath and walk dogs.  Assistance is given to pet owners to facilitate pet registration with Council, provide information to access other pet related services, as well as share information or prompt owners about pet care (eg reminders for pet vaccinations or pet care in high heat temperatures).

“Our volunteers also provide support to people during the loss of a pet,” says Leanne.

“The Zone Coordinators are the mentors, sounding boards, support network and encouragers of our volunteers. They are the link between what is happening on the ground and the committee, meeting the needs of the organisation.”

Volunteers also help with admin, answering phone calls and promoting ACSAH at community events.

Making connections

“Some of the challenges of running ACSAH is getting information to those in need of help with their pet care and maintaining volunteer numbers to meet service requirements” says Leanne.

Getting the message to older people that there is help available can be difficult, especially when many are home bound, she adds. In this situation ACSAH relies on family members advocating for their relative. Veterinary clinics, GPs, community nurses and care workers with community service organisations help to share information about ACSAH.

“ACSAH endeavours to enable flexible volunteering by matching volunteer and client needs,” she says.

Volunteers come from a variety of occupations as well as retirees.  Their volunteering is coordinated around their work/life commitments. ACSAH also welcomes under 18-year-olds with a supervising adult volunteering with them always.

“Without our dedicated volunteers ACSAH could not provide this much needed service,” says Leanne.

Pet support is crucial for older people

Many of the people ACSAH helps have a pet as their only constant companion in their home with them. As a Zone Coordinator, Leanne makes the initial visit with the pet owner to find out their needs for their pet care.

“These are things that they are struggling with or no longer able to do for their pet. The look of relief on a person’s face when I say ‘ACSAH can help you’ makes an impact on me every time,” she says.

“The fact that they recognise a need for their pet and place their trust in a volunteer to be responsible for their pet while undertaking this assistance is extremely gratifying.

“There is a very real need in every community for a service such as this, whether it be part of a Community Home Care Package delivered by a Service Provider or by a volunteer organisation. ACSAH is willing to share our model with others wishing to establish something similar in their community.”

For more information about ACSAH, please visit

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