Last year, the ACT Companion Dog Club celebrated 30 years of their Dogs-as-Therapy program.
The program, founded in 1968 by club member Margaret McNicol, sees groups of happy canines make regular visits to five aged care residences around Canberra each month, providing fun and joy in return for many pats (and treats).
“It’s quite well known that dogs can have a really good influence on people’s health and wellbeing,” says ACT Companion Dog Club President Lesley Pothan. “Just even stroking dogs can be quite a nice tactile but very soothing experience.”
Ms Pothan says the dogs visit residences in groups of around five, along with their handlers.
“It appears more enjoyable for the people when they see a group of dogs coming in. They say ‘oh, it’s dog day, look how many dogs we’ve got!’ so the number of dogs seems to just really brighten up the place.”
She says while some residents are taken with the animals, others use the monthly visits to connect with the Dogs-as-Therapy handlers or other residents.
“The dog might be an ice-breaker at times … it’s not always just about the dog; some people really love the dogs and they pat them and do that, but other times … they talk to you.”
The talented canine team has also expanded into a reading program with a Canberra primary school. Ms Pothan says children who are reluctant to read aloud are developing their reading skills by reading to one of the dogs.
“Some of the children that were very reluctant to read have actually said they’ve been keen to come to read to the dogs.”
The club doesn’t charge for their services, and all the dogs and handlers participate in the therapy visits on a volunteer basis.
Ms Pothan stresses the importance of the dogs’ comfort, with all dogs assessed before entering the program.
“You need the right dog for it, so not all dogs are suitable to work as a therapy dog. These dogs, they need to be of good temperament … So they need to enjoy other dogs and people, and not be too rough.
“We’re always interested in more dogs if anyone wants to do it.”
For more information, email [email protected] or call 6295 7764.