When American president Harry S. Truman was doing it tough, he once famously remarked: “If you want to find a friend in this town, get a dog”.
The battlers at Anita Villa in Katoomba know exactly what he meant.
Leura’s Patricia Woodley has been visiting the aged care home for almost a year now and her visits with sidekick Blade are always welcome.
She is part of a national community visitor volunteer scheme (CVS) to enrich the lives of lonely residents of aged care homes. A community visitor is matched with a resident of a nursing home, and visits them regularly to give them one-on-one attention. For Lisa Faulkner, 44, who has down syndrome and has lived in the home for nine years following the deaths of her carer parents, Patricia Woodley’s visit and the added excitement of her well-behaved six-year-old Siberian huskie Blade (who loves to make friends, eat and wait patiently for a pat) are a weekly highlight.
“Lisa talks so much when Patricia and Blade are here,” staff member Colleen Watson told the Gazette during the visit.
“Patients do love the dogs, they can be crabby and you can walk up with the dog and their mood improves,” she added.
It’s long been scientifically proven the benefits of companion animals to humans. For more than 10 years The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has run an Animal Assisted Therapy program bringing dogs, cats, and other small animals to hospitals, nursing homes, and retirement villages. All the while, American researchers have monitored its impact with statistics showing significant reductions in depression among the residents along with increases in social functioning. These results were also duplicated in another recent three-year study of psychiatric patients at San Francisco General Hospital.
Richard Avanzino, president of the society, said the studies, which still continue today, show that “in an ever more alienated world, animals can be our teachers, reminding us of the simple pleasures of life and the joy of loving and being loved”.
Ms Woodley said far from feeling like charity, the visits actually make her and Blade feel good.
“He is very sociable and he likes all the smells of the food,” Ms Woodley said. “He gets excited when we come. Dogs communicate. They have a sixth sense when they are needed,” she added.
“People say ‘Aren’t you good for visiting’ and I say ‘no’. You get this wonderful feeling (from visiting), you communicate on a deeper level, sometimes you don’t even need to talk.”
Ms Woodley said she realised many people would find visiting a nursing home difficult and even she is sometimes “extremely saddened by some of these people”.
“You can tell they know where they are and don’t want to be here, as nice as this place is because it’s like a last post.
“I can appreciate for some people it may be daunting or out of their comfort zone, but when I come in, whether it is Billy or John to greet me they say ‘Hello, hello Blade,’ it’s great”.
Heather Ginard, facility manager, said there were only three community visitors at the moment to their home and they needed more.
CVS is an Australian Government initiative funded through the Department of Health and Ageing. Felicity Tonks, the Katoomba-based co-ordinator said there was “always a need for more visitors at both Anita Villa and at other local aged care facilities like The Ritz in Leura”.
The program has been running in the Mountains for 20 years. There are currently 25 volunteers. Those interested can call the Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre on 4782-1117 for details. There is a short orientation process and volunteers are covered by insurance.
Ms Woodley encouraged other dog owners to take up the challenge “to give someone a little bit of love”. After all, as another famous saying recalled, “there’s no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face”.