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Four-legged friends join volunteer ranks at MercyCare

The four new recruits are part of a pet therapy program aimed at enhancing the health and wellbeing of residents.

In July, MercyCare put a call out for volunteers for a new dog visiting service and were inundated with people wanting to help.

Since the program started six weeks ago, the dogs have been welcomed by staff and residents like old friends, even donning their own personalised MercyCare identification badges as they go about their room visits.

The hounds and their owners make weekly or fortnightly visits depending on their availability.

Among the team is 14-month-old Groodle (Golden Retriever-Poodle cross) Shelby and her owner Linda Welsh.

Ms Welsh, a clinical psychologist in Nedlands, said she was a strong believer in the benefits of pet assisted therapy and Shelby had immediately struck a chord with MercyCare residents.

“I very much believe in the benefits of pet assisted therapy,” Ms Welsh said.

“I am a clinical psychologist and Shelby comes with me to work every day. I have seen the enormous benefit and calming influence she has had on my clients so I decided to volunteer for MercyCare’s new dog visiting program.

“Shelby is just gorgeous with the residents. She puts her head on their laps and looks at them adoringly. They really connect with her and she loves it because it means she gets more than her fair share of pats during our visits.”

MercyCare Residential Aged Care Leisure and Lifestyle Coordinator Alison Openshaw said research had shown pets offered significant benefits to physical and mental health, particularly in elderly people and those living with dementia.

“I am very passionate about pet assisted therapy,” Ms Openshaw said.

“The feedback we have received has been really positive. The smiles you see are just amazing. It really is food for the soul and it’s so good to see residents enjoying themselves.

“Research has shown that pet therapy in aged care is so valuable, especially for people living with dementia. As well as the companionship, it’s also a sensory experience for them.

“A lot of residents here have had their own dogs in the past and some have had to leave their own homes and pets. This is such a perfect way for them to integrate that sense of pet companionship into their lives.”