The social enterprise was founded in 2015 by veterinarian Dr Alicia Kennedy with a clear purpose to enable the benefits of healthy companion pets and a thriving human animal bond to be accessible to all people. Their vision is a world where the human animal bond is recognised and valued for the vital role it plays in healthy and connected individuals and communities.
Cherished Pets are also a dual entity: Cherished Pets private veterinary practice (the world’s first certified B Corporation veterinary service, meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability); and the Cherished Pets Foundation, a registered charity that supports their social mission with fundraising and a volunteer program.
The organisation’s social mission is to provide in-home pet care assistance and crisis care to pets of people experiencing vulnerability, specifically older people, those living with a disability, fleeing domestic and family violence, experiencing homelessness and mental health crisis.
“As a veterinarian for over 35 years I have always loved supporting the pets of older people. I have become a passionate advocate for Pets & Healthy Ageing,” said Dr Kennedy.
“I recognised a long time ago that as people go through life phases, the importance of a companion animal and the human animal bond can increase, while capacity to care for them can be compromised. In worse case scenarios I have witnessed some distressing cases of neglect, and I knew this was not from a lack of love, but more a lack of capacity.
She started wondering what we needed to do as a community to support the pets of our elderly neighbours so that they can stay healthy, well and together for as long as possible? The answer came with the creation of Cherished Pets, which allows the introduction of volunteers to support the wraparound care and employing a Community Vet Nurse and Vet Social Workers to provide professional assistance.
Cherished Pets veterinary practice has also established a strong reputation for its special focus on supporting older pet owners.
“As our service is bond-centred in its delivery, we connect to our clients and get to know them,” explained Dr Kennedy.
“Over the years our relationship deepens as does trust, and we see patterns emerge, with periodic health challenges and/or loss of independence. Cherished Pets is there through these difficult times, to provide additional community support, providing our clients with the priceless peace of mind that their cherished pet will be loved and looked after even when they are not able to do so.”
Cherished Pets operates in the Geelong Region of Victoria with around 50 volunteers at any given time providing support in-Home Care Assistance (matching volunteers with older people living alone to walk dogs, transport pets); Respite Care of pets when people are in crisis and/or hospital, Fundraising and Comms; and Board and Governance roles.
“Through our community service in the last year, we have supported over 80 crisis care cases, remote support for 160 people in need and 50 home care assistance clients,” said Dr Kennedy.
“Our vet practice has over 600 clients who are over 65 years of age and we pay special attention to their specific needs, linking them to additional support if and when required. For example, we recently attended a dog’s end of life for an elderly lady who was personally against cremation and wanted her dog buried for religious reasons. However, she did not have capacity to prepare her dog’s grave, so we were able to arrange someone to support her with this through our volunteer community.”
Demand for in-home pet care support
Many older adults receiving in-home pet care assistance come to Cherished Pets via the private veterinary practice, said Dr Kennedy.
“When the need for home pet care assistance is identified, the clinic team can refer the pet/client to our Care Team for intake and planning,” she said.
“Demand for our services have been consistent over recent years, with numbers of participants around 35 at any one time receiving our Home Care Assistance service and many others receiving ad hoc support such as pet transport, emotional support and veterinary assistance.”
Cherished Pets’ in-home pet care assistance service provides wraparound care with:
- Volunteer matching
- Community Vet Nurses doing the rounds, supporting with pet wellness, nutrition and health maintenance
- Emergency Care Plans
- Vet services: access, support and financial assistance if required
- Transport and transfers
- Respite care
- Rehoming and planning when people die/move into permanent care (if they can’t keep their pet)
- Advocating to keep them together beyond the move
- Behavioural and nutrition support for pets
- Connecting to other services if the needs arise
- Bereavement support and end of pet life services
“Every pet in this program receives a comprehensive health and behaviour plan, with support coordinated when needed,” said Dr Kennedy.
“Our Cherished Pets Community Hub is a place for connection and engagement. As our official “home” we use this space for volunteer training, community events, pet memorial gatherings, bereavement support and meetings. It’s a place to gather around a shared love of pets.”
Cherished Pets is recognised natonally for its leadership in providing home pet care assistance for older people.
Dr Kennedy adds, “We know from our work in the community how essential these home assistance services are. It is my dream to see pet services integrated into My Aged Care and home care funding programs. The evidence is there of the social benefit of these services for our broader community. When we are supporting pets of older people, we are enhancing healthy ageing, quality of life and community wellbeing.”
Run by Lutheran Services in Queensland, Orana Aged Care offers a country lifestyle and personalised aged care services, including dementia, palliative and respite care.
“We recognise pets provide the most amazing companionship for people. So, if the animal is suitable, they can stay with their owners when they move into aged care and really smooth over that transition,” says Kym Zischke, Service Manager Orana Aged Care & Retirement Living.
“At the moment we do not have any pets living permanently in residential care, but we have both cats and dogs living with residents in our retirement village.”
Orana Aged Care residents also enjoy visits from four legged guests, such as Pippa, a delightful 7-month-old Schmoodle who belongs to a staff member and is a “sucker for cuddles,” laughs Ms Zischke.
“There is regular contact with Pippa at all activities and Pippa also makes one-on-one visits. Pippa likes to ride around on the walkers!” she adds.
“Although kangaroo joeys are not pets, we sometimes have a visit from a wildlife carer. Residents absolutely love to bottle feed the joeys who are in bag-pouches. That brings them so much joy.”
Ms Zischke says pets certainly have a positive impact on residents and staff.
“When Pippa visits, we see residents really socialise. Pippa sort of encourages them to come and spend time with others and participate in activities. She also has a very soothing effect on their mental health,” she says.
“Staff have benefited also from cuddles to help them through challenging days at work and other residents just love spending time with her. One resident takes her for a walk on his wheelie walker and enjoys the interaction immensely.”
Ms Zischke believes it beneficial for Orana Aged Care residents to continue having interactions with animals of all types and sizes in their later years.
As for pets living with their owners in aged care facilities, she says, “Each situation needs to be visited individually as there are definite benefits, but we need to ensure residents are able to care for their pet. At Orana Aged Care, we take it on a case-by-case basis.”
Established in 1979 in England, the SCAS promotes the study of human-companion animal interactions and raise awareness of the importance of pets in society. The Bob Harvey Award honours the memory of Bob, whose battle to remain with his beloved dog Darcie after his wife’s passing is featured in a video on the SCAS website.
The Award is presented to a care home, hospice, or care facility that has gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep human and animal together and protect that all-important bond.
CANA nominated Lifeview with the story of Willow Wood resident Paul Debar and his loyal companion, Bonny, outlining the efforts the organisation makes to enable residents to keep their pet when they move into a Lifeview home.
All Lifeview homes – Argyle Court in Chelsea, Emerald Glades in Emerald, The Willows in Wheelers Hill and Willow Wood in Cranbourne – work with new residents to try and enable them to keep their pet when they move into care.
“As a proudly pet-friendly provider of residential aged care in Melbourne, we are committed to residents being able to maintain their pet when they move into a Lifeview home,” said Lifeview CEO Samantha Jewell.
“Allowing pets to move into aged care with their owners makes the transition easier. You give up a lot to move into aged care, you should not also have to give up that relationship you have with your pet.
“Someone like Paul, he would not settle without his dog, Bonny, and that is the same for a lot of people. Our pets have been our companions for many, many years, and to have to give them up is sad and heart-breaking.
“We were proud to be named a joint recipient of the inaugural Bob Harvey Award. We thank Companion Animal Network Australia for nominating Lifeview and the Society for Companion Animal Studies for hosting this award.”
CANA works closely with Lifeview to help promote and educate other organisations about the value of pets in aged care.
“Bob’s story was heartbreaking, and we would encourage people to watch it because that is why pets in aged care are so important,” said Ms Jewell.
“Lifeview is proudly pet friendly. Pets bring enormous wellness benefits to the residents, and we would encourage all aged care providers to explore ways to allow residents to bring their pet with them when they move into care.”
The collaboration seeks to alleviate loneliness among older people by facilitating the adoption of pets from shelters and creating loving companionships in aged care settings.
Pound Paws Founder Brittany Bloomer said, “Animals possess a unique ability to communicate without words, impacting the hearts of humans. The companionship formed with our furry friends is unparalleled, and Pound Paws is thrilled to launch this partnership with BUPA Aged Care, fostering numerous loving connections between pet owners and rescue pets across retirement communities in Australia."
Scientific research has consistently highlighted the numerous physical and mental health benefits that pets offer, including stress reduction, companionship, and increased social interactions. These benefits are especially crucial for older adults who often face isolation and loneliness, relying on the presence of a furry companion to thrive, whether at home or in a residential aged care facility.
Companion Animal Network Australia's recent Aged Care report shows a staggering 61% of older adults live alone, with 74% of pet owners among them crediting their animals for providing companionship and alleviating feelings of loneliness.
Recognising the significance of this issue, Pound Paws and BUPA Aged Care have come together to make a positive impact in the lives of both rescue animals and the elderly.
"We firmly believe that pets can significantly enhance the well-being of residents in our centres. Over the years, we have been fortunate to witness countless heartwarming friendships blossom between our residents and a variety of animals, from dogs to birds," said Amanda Grimmer, BUPA Aged Care Business Development Manager (VIC / SA).
Roxie is a great comfort to aged care residents and staff
Bupa Aged Care’s Clayton home currently gets a daily visit from Roxie, who came into residential aged care with her owner who sadly passed away and was adopted by Clayton’s General Manager. Roxie now provides ongoing comfort and companionship to the residents and their families, said Ms Grimmer.
“Bupa facilities all over Australia assess any application for a resident who has a pet they want to bring with them on an individual basis – mainly to ensure the facility has capacity to ensure the pet will be happy in the room that the potential resident will be calling home,” she said.
Bupa’s aged care facilities have dogs, cats and birds.
“One of Bupa’s regional Victorian homes had a family arrange transportation for a canary, Tweetie-Pie, to fly from Queensland to our Woodend facility, and when the resident discharged, Tweetie-Pie became a facility pet who all the residents adore and take turns looking after,” said Ms Grimmer.
Throughout the height of COVID when external providers and entertainment were not allowed to attend facilities, Ms Grimmer was allowed by her ‘forward thinking GM’ to bring both of her Border Collies in to a Bupa aged care home every day.
“The joy and comfort that they bought to the residents when they were isolated from their families was immeasurable, but so was the comfort and stress relief that they bought to staff who were working tirelessly under such extreme conditions,” she said.
“Animals in residential care settings inject a sense of whimsy and nostalgia. Visitors are encouraged to bring their family dogs in for a visit and all our homes welcome well-behaved dogs (on lead) to come in and visit at any time. There is such joy in hearing residents’ stories of the dogs and other animals they have owned throughout their lives. Reminiscing about past pets and the joy that they bought is always a lovely memory.”
Overcoming pet adoption barriers with Dog Adoption Events
One of the major barriers to pet adoption is the lack of access to pounds and rescue centers, often due to distance or transportation constraints. To overcome this challenge, Pound Paws not only hosts an online rescue pet search engine, but also organises Dog Adoption Events, bringing dogs available for adoption from various rescue groups directly to the public.
As part of the collaboration with BUPA Aged Care, Pound Paws is launching Dog Adoption Events at BUPA Aged Care facilities, beginning with BUPA Clayton in Victoria on 5 August 2023. These events are open to the public to attend with a variety of fun activities for all ages. And hopefully, there will be a special connection made between rescue pets and residents at Bupa Aged Care.
Ms Grimmer is unsure if a resident will want to adopt a pet, “but who knows!” she said.
“My hope is we’re able to find as many homes for rescue dogs as possible!”
Ms Bloomer said, “Running Dog Adoption Events at Bupa Aged Care facilities present a fantastic opportunity to reach a new network of potential pet owners who are in desperate need of support and companionship, as well as a remarkable opportunity for the public to learn more about various rescue groups and their incredible work.”
Additionally, educational talks on stage cover a range of topics including Animal Communication, Pet Health and Responsible Pet Ownership. Pound Paws firmly believes that education is key to successful pet ownership.
The charity works with small breed dogs and provides support for older pet owners in their homes and in aged care facilities.
Chris Moore, Founder of Hope Springs Eternal Dog Rescue, said, “We offer short term boarding for pets when their owners need to go into hospital and don’t have family or a support network who can care for their pet. We also help with financial assistance to pay for urgent vet care for pets when the owners are experiencing financial hardship.”
The charity’s Cuddles & Co program also matches the pets of working people with older people who love pets but can no longer have one due to living arrangements, health issues or finances.
“The pet keeps the older person company while the owner is at work,” says Ms Moore.
The program also provides greater social connections between pet owners and older adults, such as the opportunity to check in regularly on an older person and advise pre-identified support persons if they are not doing well.
“We have often seen older people are unaware of their pets’ needs, such as with grooming, exercise and vet care, and may struggle to take them to the vet particularly if they no longer drive,” said Ms Moore.
“We consider it would be of absolute benefit to provide for these pet care needs in home care packages. Very often maintaining their relationship with their pet is the sole reason people have to get up each day and preserving this bond and relationship makes a significant difference to quality of life and wellbeing for the senior person.”
Hope Springs Eternal Dog Rescue takes on senior dogs when their owners need to go into nursing care and continue to take pets to visit their owners in care on a regular basis.
“This has been such a positive for the person struggling to transition from living at home to living in an aged care environment, both for the benefit of maintaining their relationship with their pet but also the extra human visitor to interact with,” said Ms Moore.
The rescue group has also commenced pet therapy visits to aged care facilities and have seen firsthand what a positive difference these weekly visits make.
“Residents who can be difficult and won't engage absolutely live for and come alive for their weekly pet therapy visit. Other residents enjoy the interaction with a friendly dog, talking about the pets they had and the extra human visitor, too!” said Ms Moore.
Survey on the benefits and disadvantages of pet ownership
Hope Springs Eternal Dog Rescue conducted a survey in 2023 on the benefits and disadvantages of pet ownership, and results did not surprise Ms Moore and rather “reinforced her beliefs”.
“In the survey, 93% of respondents cited positives associated with pet ownership and 13% of these also cited some negatives. None of the respondents cited negative effects only,” she said.
For instance, when asked the best thing about pet ownership, 96% of people said companionship and unconditional love, 81% said ‘making me laugh and having someone to greet me when I get home’, and 70% said encouragement to exercise.
To what participants thought the disadvantages of pet ownership were, 74% said ‘pets passing’ and 51% said ‘difficulty to go away’.
“In discussing special experiences with their pets, may people cited companionship, unconditional love, affection, support and comfort during illness or tough times, and their pet making them smile and laugh regularly and helping them manage mental health issues including depression,” said Ms Moore.
“Many also enjoyed travelling with their pets or doing things together like walking, going to the beach, running and cuddling.”
The biggest negative impact on wellbeing was the emotional pain people felt when their pet passed away or they had to make the decision to put them to sleep, she added. Other negatives, according to survey results, were allergies to their fur/hair, asthma, and stress associated with pet behaviour problems or mess in the house.
“Another key source of worry was ageing pets or pets that were ill and required expensive vet treatment, particularly where owners did not have the funds to cover treatment. On occasions, this dictates decisions they must make about their pets’ lives,” said Ms Moore.
“Several survey participants said that having a pet was the only thing that kept them alive during tough times.”
All survey outcomes can be viewed here: https://hsedr.org.au/index.php/survey-the-positives-and-negatives-of-pet-ownership/
* The survey received 82 responses over the age of 30 from members of Hope Springs Eternal Dog Rescue’s social media community.
Many older citizens of the Sutherland Shire in NSW depend on the transport provider to get to their medical and personal appointments, and so do their pets!
“With 69%* of Australian households owning a pet, we could see the need for this service within the Sutherland Shire,” said Stephanie McCamley, Assistant General Manager at Activus Transport. "Our customers trust us with their transport to medical and personal appointments, so it goes without saying that they trust us to transport their beloved pets, too.”
Activus Transport is funded by the State and Federal Government and caters to nearly 6,000 people in the Sutherland Shire area who are unable to access mainstream transport due to physical, social or geographical factors and who live independently in their own home and unit.
“Older people with pets, in particular, benefit from transport services,” says Pam Collocott, Business Development Officer of Activus Transport.
“Our clients have all manner of pets and there is a high need among older pet owners for urgent and non-urgent visits to the vet. Some take their pets to the groomers and friend/family visits. There’s also a service dog who joins his owner on all Activus social bus trips, as well as two companion dogs who go everywhere with their owners in our cars.”
Ms Collocott said some animals are too big for the owners to manage so Activus drivers can support clients in those situations.
“One of our client's father was in hospital for an extended period. We were able to take the client to the hospital with his companion animal to visit his father, which was extremely important to our client,” she said. “Wherever our clients want to go, they know their animal is welcome, too.”
Ms Collocott isn’t surprised by the data in CANA’s Aged Care report, which highlights 68% of people believe residents in aged care should be able to own a pet, and yet only 18% of aged care facilities consider allowing residents to keep a pet.
“I would imagine that the grief of separation from a much-loved pet when older adults have to enter aged care facilities would be incredibly sad,” said Ms Collocott. “I know there are facilities that offer to re-house pets but that is cold comfort for the owner and the pet.”
She is also saddened by CANA’s survey revealing so many older pet owners who live at home do not get help from their in-home aged care service provider to care for their pet.
“We want to support older citizens of Sutherland Shire who want to be out and about with their pet. We welcome any calls for help from seniors and those with a disability to contact us for more details about this service”, she says.
For more about Activus Transport, please visit https://activustransport.org.au/
Lisa Farrall, a retired registered nurse, had been training one of her dogs, Teddy, for over three years to fulfill the role of a therapy dog and was getting quite frustrated that therapy dog training providers on the mainland were not coming to Hobart to do assessments.
Lisa began discussing the issue with dog lovers at Tracking and Scentwork trials she was participating in with her dogs, and the idea was born to start up a locally owned and run business to get dogs into the community!
In October 2021, Lisa and her business partner Danielle Morris launched Therapy Paws Tasmania (TPT), a volunteer-based business that provides much needed ‘canine comfort visits’ to businesses, schools and healthcare settings in Hobart.
At TPT, Lisa’s role is to find clients, assess dog and handler teams and visit facilities with her own three therapy dogs, Teddy, Faith and Baloo. TPT has 12 dog and handler teams with multiple therapy dogs, like Lisa. Danielle and Lisa also do three supervised ‘buddy shifts’ with every team.
“Not only do we do one team visits, we also do big group visits,” says Lisa. “We organise four or five dogs that do tricks like Scentwork and then receive lots of pats and cuddles at the end. The dogs all love it!”
“We have approached many aged care facilities, but unfortunately they often don't see the dogs visiting as a priority or simply do not have the funds to pay for the visits,” says Lisa.
“In an ideal world, we would not have to charge for visits, but insurance is not cheap to cover the teams. We also use those funds to supply our teams with uniforms to wear to their visits. I personally take each team to three supervised visits in different facilities to see how they cope.”
TPT currently provides pet therapy to residential aged care facilities Queen Victoria Care and Barossa Lodge, as well Universities, Emergency Departments, Ambulance Tasmania, Vacation care, Mental health facilities, group homes, agencies with underprivileged youth, and special events like a Variety camp with non-verbal children.
“We try to cover all of Tasmania but only have three teams up north at the moment. We are always on the lookout for teams to volunteer and need funding to continue what we do,” says Lisa.
Ideal pet therapy dog for aged care
The ideal dog for aged care settings comes in many shapes and sizes, and there is not a "one size fits all,” says Lisa.
“Therapy dogs need to love people,” she says. “They also definitely need to be calm and gentle around aged care residents. They cannot be jumping, pawing or getting rough in any way due to the fragile nature of most residents.”
Unlike medium/large dogs, smaller therapy dogs can be a challenge as they are usually too low to have a pat. So smaller therapy dogs need to be happy to sit up on a chair to be more accessible or even sit on someone's lap if requested, explains Lisa.
“A lot of our dogs also do tricks and the residents just love that. It engages them and adds a bit of fun to the visit,” she says. “A lot of our dogs are also very good at reading a room. If the resident is not well or a bit sad, they simply go in and just sidle up for a pat and cuddle. If other residents are well and having fun, the dogs know that and match the mood accordingly. It is very special to watch them work.”
Therapy dogs also need to be prepared for absolutely anything, says Lisa.
“Loud noises, screaming, fights, arguments, aggressive behaviour… They need to be comfortable around wheelchairs, walkers, trolleys, frames. Or be able to leave food on the floor and walk past with a cue from the handler,” she adds.
Handlers also need to be prepared to act in an instance and ensure their own and their dog’s safety are paramount.
“For the health and wellbeing of the dogs, no teams are allowed to work more than 90 minutes per day but the average is 60 minutes. If the dogs are doing the job well, they are exhausted after an hour,” says Lisa.
Pet friendly aged care facilities
Lisa is not aware of any aged care facilities in Tasmania keeping resident dogs, but she knows many aged care staff who take their own dogs in with them.
“I would love to see all areas of Tasmania become more dog friendly, not just aged care facilities. But unfortunately, many dog owners do not understand dog behaviour, dog body language and then incidents occur,” says Lisa.
“More education about pet therapy for dog owners would be a start. I speak to a lot of people when taking my own dogs out. I am told regularly that their dog would be a great therapy dog. Loving people is simply not enough. They need to be ok with whatever comes their way.”
For instance, whilst therapy dogs need to be able to toilet on command, their handlers need to be able to recognise if their dog is stressed and end the session.
“It comes down to many years of obedience training and knowing the dog like the back of your hand. And when you can do all that, you need to maintain it, so the training never stops,” says Lisa.
“While a career in nursing gave me a lot of pride in helping others, to work with all these amazing (therapy dog and handler) teams gives me the most fulfilment. We are making a difference day by day.
“When an ED staff member or an Aged Care resident calls out to your dog "Teddy I love you so much, see you soon" as you leave for the day, I secretly hold back the tears and give my ‘goodest boy’ a big kiss.”
Lisa says pet therapy visits make an “enormous difference” to aged care residents.
“You often walk into a quiet room and the mood instantly changes. Their faces are beaming, their speech is bright and enthusiastic,” she says.
“We talk a lot about our dogs and the dogs they had. Sometimes it is quite sad as quite a few have had to rehome their beloved pets when going into care. Our visits never replace that bond they had with their own pets, but they just love the interaction they can get from ours. I'm so very lucky to witness these special moments and am truly grateful for all our volunteers and their beautiful dogs.”
Glenview’s Activities Coordinator Meagan Lee has been working at the organisation’s two sites - Windsor Street residential aged care site in Glenorchy and Korongee Dementia Village in Derwent Park – since 2012 and regularly brings along her 2-year-old ‘trainee therapy dog’, Astro, to spread love and joy to the residents.
“I’m unashamedly proud of what a natural he is at reading people’s emotions and giving love to so many,” said Meagan.
Another staff member’s trainee therapy dog, Paddington, visits residents at Glenview’s Korongee facility, a purpose-built village for people living with dementia located in Derwent Park.
“We don’t have any residents with pets, but we do have budgies at our Windsor Street site and chickens living at Korongee,” she said.
Glenview engages a local Alpaca farm with specially trained Alpacas to visit the facility and a local school that brings farm animals.
“Volunteers bring pet rabbits and orphaned lambs, and we plan outings to see horses both privately owned and through Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). Also visitors are encouraged to bring their pets in to visit if appropriate and we regularly have both canine and feline visitors!” said Meagan.
Meagan got Astro, a Border Collie/ Golden Retriever cross, as a puppy and started bringing him to work with her increasingly more as he settled out of his excitable puppy stage.
Over time, “I saw his beautiful personality blossom and his natural talent for reading people’s emotions shine through,” she said, and began to bring him to Glenview more frequently and take his therapy training more seriously.
At both of Glenview’s facilities, Astro spends his day following Meagan about her regular duties which tend to take her all over the facility. He also spends time in the morning and afternoon visiting residents in their rooms.
“We visit anyone and everyone, but also have a list of people who really love Astro’s visits and those who are more isolated or perhaps confined to their beds for various reasons,” said Meagan. “He is learning to put his front paws up onto beds when prompted so that people with decreased mobility can still reach him for a good pat. Astro works really hard and it’s really tiring for him, so I find he needs a rest in the middle of the day. This usually involves a good nap under my desk!”
It's clear Astro has a positive impact on Glenview residents and staff.
“The joy on residents’ faces when they see Astro approaching is testament to the positive impact he has. Residents remember him and greet him like he is their own!” said Meagan.
“We know that there are many proven benefits to Pet Therapy in aged care and it is evident in his interactions and the responses he receives. The sensory and tactile effect of patting and touching a dog (or any animal in fact) has been shown to lower stress levels. Luckily Astro is happy to help lower stress levels all day long!”
Meagan also enjoys witnessing the positive impact Astro has on staff.
“Those small moments where they can stop to say hello and give him a pat can really add something different to their day at work,” she said.
If Astro could talk about being a therapy dog, Meagan thinks he would say, “I love making people smile. I’ve been working on my ‘puppy eyes’ since I was a wee boy; I use them to make anyone feel loved, even on their worst days. My favourite part is all the cuddles I get and the new people I meet; oh how I love people! I know I’m a handsome boy and my smile melts hearts!”
Meagan knows how important it would be for her own wellbeing to have her pets with her in aged care.
“I think it is vital to have (pet friendly) options available for people moving into care,” she said. “I understand the challenges that can come with allowing pets in a shared living environment, especially when it accommodates people living with complex needs and conditions. But the positive benefits to people’s health and wellbeing are evident and must be considered.”
Meagan believes pet friendly rooms and spaces should be accounted for in the building of all new facilities and, where possible, accommodated in current facilities.
“It is such a fantastic way to value add to any organisation. We are seeing changes in so many industries because the benefits of pets are so widely known and accepted. We must take this on board and change the way we do things for the better!” she said.
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.
“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 https://www.acsahcairns.au/
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.”