Kane and Heli

“Patients check up on the dogs’ diet/ shampoo/ transport/ walking regime… every aspect of the dogs’ lives interests them.”

 Edwina Sharpe  Alexis Mulhearn  Heli

Name: Alexis & Edwina with Kane & Heli

Type of dogs: Greyhound

Location: New South Wales (nr Queensland border)

Visits: Mental health

Volunteering: 2 years

Why: I volunteer because I believe pets give amazing health benefits to everyone, but especially people who are elderly, frail, sick, injured or suffering from a chronic illness.  I have chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and was bed-bound for 12 months. Although I am now well enough to lead a relatively normal life, my pets kept me sane (some might argue this) for my bed-bound period and throughout the slow process of getting the pain under control and getting my life back on track. While I was bed-bound, I vowed to myself that as soon as I could I would do pets as therapy work so other people could benefit from interacting with a friendly pet too.

Enjoys most: In the psych unit, there are a lot of people who don’t get any visitors and who I suspect are pretty contact deprived in their normal lives as well. Also, many of them are frightened by being in hospital / by their drugs / by their illness / by life. The dog gives them an opportunity to interact with a being that doesn’t judge, and that they don’t have to “pretend” with. 

The vast majority of patients get on well with animals and love them a lot. I like seeing:

–      Patients pat and hug the dog,

–      Patients’ faces light up when they see the dog

–      Hearing patients talk about their own pets (either past or present). Sometimes these are sad stories but the patients gain some comfort from telling them

–      Patients talk to the dog about their lives / their stays in hospital / their fears

–      patients wanting to give their food or drinks to the dog. Sometimes they want to share things that aren’t good for the dog and I have to step in, but it’s lovely to see people who don’t have much, wanting to share it with the dog

–      patients talk to the dog and to me and finding out later that the dog is the only thing the person responds to.

–      Staff having an opportunity to have a mental break themselves as they pat and hug the dog

–      Patients find out they have something in common with another patient or staff member – a shared love of dogs

Delta Alexis  Kane

Dog enjoys:  Love the attention! He gets really excited when I get the Delta shirt out of the wardrobe. He loves greeting all the staff first then works around the ward common areas and then the rooms. They have a little routine, and stick to it each visit.

But on top of that, he seems to know he’s helping people. I have often seen him go up to a patient who is sitting alone not showing any interest, and watched the patient slowly start to pat the dog or talk to the dog. A bit later, that patient might get up and come over to talk to the other patients.

Dogs also seem to know which patients need them the most – sometimes walking past one patient or spending only a small time with one patient and them going over to another patient and spending a longer time with them. Sometimes afterwards I find out the patient the dog spent longer with has not spoken for days.  Sometimes the dog will push a patient’s hands with their nose or head until the patient starts to pat them, and it’s usually about then that the patient will smile or say something to me or to the dog. 

Reaction: Patients – very positive. Sometimes we have a little queue of patients at the staffroom door (where we enter) waiting for our arrival. A number of patients are admitted more than once in a year and I find in fascinating how many of them remember the dog’s name – even if it’s been months since the patient was last admitted and last saw the dog.

Sometimes a patient may be having a psychotic episode while we’re there and I have seen patients leave the room so as not to upset the dog (who is not upset at all by the psychotic episode), or patients who are having an outburst (eg yelling or banging doors or hitting furniture/walls) will stop, will come over pat the dog very calmly and then go back to their own room.

Patients often want to share their food and drinks with the dog (as mentioned earlier). Patients check up on the dogs’ diet / shampoo / transport needs / walking regime…every aspect of the dogs’ lives interests them.

Most importantly, patients to interact with a being that doesn’t judge them or want anything from them. They enjoy patting, hugging, kissing, touching the dog, talking to the dog, sometimes just simply sitting beside the dog watching TV or in the sun watching a bird fly past. The dog offers a moment of peace at what is often a frightening time in their lives.

Staff – very positive. The staff enjoy the dog’s visits and line up for a pat, a hug, and a general catch up. All the staff welcome the dog into their offices and the place stops working for 10mins so everyone can share their doggy memories and get a doggy fix. I think this is really important as it’s a very stressful job.

Experiences: A lady came up to the dog and started patting and talking to him. She stayed for about 30 mins following us around and chatting. After she walked off, the OT told me that was the first time she had spoken in a week.

Another patient could not speak any English and was very withdrawn. The only time he interacted during his stay (a couple of months) was with the dog – the rest of the time he sat without moving, staring at the ground.

A young girl was sitting under a tree in the yard sobbing. The dog went over to her, and pushed her with his face. She hugged him and cried on him for about 5 mins, then took him for a walk, smiled and talked about her own dog. She was in Australia on holidays, spoke little English and had no friends or family. The OT said it was the first time she had smiled since she arrived.

Kane - Santa snoozing


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