You know its Wednesday when Baz the Spoodle patters through the Peter Mac corridors. Wearing his official ‘pet therapy’ uniform, the volunteer pup and his owner Cath Flanagan bring a weekly dose of joy to patients and staff.
Baz and Cath are volunteers with the pet therapy program, a partnership between Lort Smith Animal Hospital and Peter Mac’s volunteer service.
It’s a simple concept – volunteers and their pet dogs visit people in hospitals and other care facilities.
Cath and Baz were the first pet therapy team to visit Peter Mac when the new building opened in August 2016 and the number of volunteers has since grown into a dedicated group.
The mood lifts instantly when Baz enters a ward.
“We talk about things that don’t have anything to do with their illness,” said Cath.
“We’re there to say hello, to talk about their pets at home or pets they’ve had in the past, and to take away what’s on their mind.”
Pet therapy is based on well-documented evidence of the therapeutic benefits of the human-animal bond.
Whether sharing some cuddles with a patient, placing a gentle head on the lap of someone in distress or by having a bit of fun, the positive impact dogs have on patients can be profound. Cath witnesses this regularly.
“In the young person’s unit there might be an adolescent who doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
“We make contact with Baz and suddenly they’ll start talking almost without thinking about it.”
As both Peter Mac and Lort Smith volunteers, Cath and the other pet therapy volunteers go through rigorous training so they can support patients, and they debrief after intensive interactions.
Cath said the support they receive is exceptional.
“We have an informal debrief with the volunteer coordinators when we finish our shift, which is fantastic. They pick up on anything that we might have an issue with,” she said.
Lort Smith Community Outreach Coordinator Megan Nutbean said happy volunteers make reliable volunteers.
“We are grateful to the volunteer program staff at Peter Mac for the welcome and support they offer to our volunteers,” said Megan.
The positivity that Baz brings into Peter Mac also affects staff. Cath said nursing staff, medical staff and social workers all look forward to his weekly visit.
“By patting Baz, staff switch-off from being operational and have a bit of a recharge and a laugh. It really is pet therapy for lots of different people at different levels.”
You can find this and other interesting stories about Peter Mac’s patient services, and key performance statistics, in the Peter Mac Quality Account 2016-2017. The report is available in full here.