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Pets help make residential aged care facilities like home

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St Vincent’s Care Services (SVCS) is the aged care division of St Vincent’s Health Australia with facilities around Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, and is one of the only aged care providers that are a part of a hospital network.

St Vincent’s Care Services (SVCS)

SVCS also provides a number of pet therapy programs throughout its facilities which enable residents to have regular contact with animals, says Katherine O’Brien, Clinical Manager at SVCS in Toowoomba, QLD.

“St Vincent’s Care Services provides opportunities for residents to interact with a range of animals including cats, dogs, fish, birds and chickens,” she says.

SVCS Toowoomba’s residential care facility has one in-house dog named Freckles, Silky, a dog who visits during office hours Monday to Friday, as well as birds and chickens who live on site, not to mention visiting pet therapy chooks and dogs.

“Our in-house dog has taken up residence with one of the ladies who lives here. He sleeps in her room, and she assists with his everyday wants and needs,” says Katherine.

SVCS aims to have all residents involved in pet therapy, from dogs visiting in their rooms to chooks outside on their daily walks or birds in the dining rooms chirping alongside them as they would in our own homes.

“We have visiting chook therapy that provides in room interaction with the poultry and a more touch and feel experience,” she says.

Pets not only have a positive physical and mental impact on SVCS residents but also the staff members – particularly Freckles, the in-house pooch.

“Grantham unit would not be the same without Freckles. He is a part of the family,” says Katherine.

“Freckles makes a huge difference to all the residents he visits, and they make an impact on him, too. He knows just who to visit at the right time to cheer them up, and just whose chair to sit under at meal times! Our staff all contribute to caring for Freckles and he brightens our day as he walks alongside us as we complete our daily tasks.”

Katherine says more support is needed to have pet therapy in facilities like St Vincent’s Care Services.

“We would love more awareness of what community animal visiting options there are (ie horses, cattle, sheep) so we can personalise the visits and allow individuals to reminisce about their lives,” she says.

“I think it is essential to provide an environment that would mimic what the residents would have had at home. This includes personal preference if people would not like a visiting pet to their room, but also scope to allow any visiting pets of choice.

“I hope there is more focus to make our residential aged care facilities as home-like as we can, from the cat on the front mat to the cow at the back fence.”

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