You know it’s Wednesday at Barrington Lodge in New Town, a suburb north of Hobart, by the air of expectation around The Salvation Army’s aged care facility.
It’s the day when a plastic bowl filled with water is placed outside one of the resident’s doors and a group of eager people congregate around the facility’s entrance. When the Centre’s leisure and lifestyle coordinator Cherrie Phillips walks past, she says she’ll often ask them whether they’re just sitting there to enjoy the sun streaming through the glass.
“The answer is always an emphatic ‘no’,” she smiles. “They’ll tell me they’re waiting for Dotti.”
Dotti is a beautiful, golden-haired Labrador whose visits to Barrington Lodge are the highlight of the week for many residents. Her owner, Gwen, is a volunteer with Delta Society Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that believes the human-animal bond improves our quality of life.
Gwen is one of more than a thousand volunteers who make regular visits with their canine companions to healthcare facilities around the nation—more than 850 facilities are visited weekly, including aged care, acute care for children and adults and dementia-specific Centres.
The organisation estimates that the lives of around 20,000 people are brightened every week by the simple act of patting a sleek head, looking into gentle brown eyes, stroking soft ears and talking to a furry friend who is always happy to see them.
Cherrie says that’s certainly the case with their residents, where pet therapy has long been a valued part of life at Barrington Lodge.
“It’s really important for them to have interaction with animals, especially dogs, because it helps to fill the void for so many of them who have had to leave pets behind,” she says.
“They’ll often start to reminisce about their own much-loved pets after a visit. But there are other benefits, too. Having a visit with Dotti is therapeutic; she’s very calming and lowers anxiety levels.”
Gwen takes Dotti around the lodge, through the communal areas for a pat and a chat, then visits people in their rooms. One Dotti devotee cuts up cubes of cheese for a special snack, and if she is out when Dotti visits, she makes sure her treat is left at reception so her canine friend doesn’t miss out.
“Our residents have a lot of love to give—and Dotti gets a lot of love,” Cherrie says. “It seems to give them a purpose in a way—that this lovely dog needs them to love her and give her a pat.”
But Dotti is not the only four-legged guest to enjoy pats and smiles from Barrington Lodge’s residents.
“Family members sometimes bring in pets, such as Riley the black and white dog, which goes for a walk around the facility to say hello to everyone before he goes home,” Cherrie says.
“One of our staff members is also a wildlife rescue worker. If she has a baby wombat that has to be
fed every few hours she’ll bring it in with her, which means our residents have the opportunity
to have a look and pat. We’ve had also had wallabies and even a baby lamb come into the Centre. It melts my heart to see the compassion our residents have for animals.”
Barrington Lodge director of aged care, Clare Jurasovic, notes that it’s important to understand how simple things can make a difference to someone’s day. She says “a picture paints a thousand words”, and you only have to look at the joy on the faces of residents to see what a difference Dotti makes to them.
“Our mission at Barrington Lodge is to demonstrate The Salvation Army’s core values of human dignity, justice, hope and compassion without discrimination. We aim to create healthy communities and transform lives,” she says.
“Providing wonderful facilities is vital, but so are the small things that people appreciate so much; it’s important not to overlook those.
“Pet therapy is an inclusive activity— you don’t have to be fit or even well to take part. Animals are non-judgmental and they bring out the soft side of people. A visit from a lovely dog like Dotti has the capacity to transform some- one’s lives by lifting their spirits.”
This story was written by Faye Michelson for War Cry.