Wagging tails warm ageing hearts

New recruits: Chief Happiness Officers being fitted with their new uniforms. Photos supplied

New recruits: Chief Happiness Officers being fitted with their new uniforms. Photos supplied

Pet owners know that patting and cuddling your pet is one of the best feelings in the world.

And there's scientific proof behind those feelings. Research from UCLA last year showed that animal assisted therapy for older people releases an automatic relaxation response, reduces the feeling of anxiety, contributes to the lowering of loneliness, and helps in the recall of memories. Physically, the study found that the therapy helps to reduce blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health, decreases the amount of medications, and reduces physical pain.

With this in mind aged care provider Whiddon has introduced a program called Creature Comforts into their homes, resulting in the appointment of several furry Chief Happiness Officers.

Bingo the Toy Poodle/Mini Foxie, Milo the Dachshund, and Angus the Labrador have received their uniforms and job description, which includes providing companionship, smiles, and laughter to residents, as well as encouraging incidental exercise and stronger social connections in the aged care home.

TheCreature Comfortsprogrampartners with residents and families to choose the types of animals that they wish to have around them in the residential home. The aim is to improve wellbeing, reduce anxiety and depression, increase social connection and help reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness. The program also brings a range of benefits for residents through caring for the pets and helps to create a more home-like environment.

Whiddon said animal related programs such as Creature Comforts can also provide focus and act as a 'stress buffer', helping individuals develop or improve their coping mechanisms and feelings of purpose and contribution, as well as increasing incidental exercise.

Connection: The aim is to improve wellbeing, reduce anxiety and depression, increase social connection and help reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

Connection: The aim is to improve wellbeing, reduce anxiety and depression, increase social connection and help reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

Karn Nelson, Head of Strategy and Innovation at Whiddon, said that having animals around in residential care homes can bring comfort to older people and create stronger communities by offering opportunities for staff, residents and visiting family and friends to bond over the company and care of animals.

"Giving these animals the affectionate title of 'Chief Happiness Officer' is a symbolic way for us to recognise the enormous contribution they make to the daily lives of residents and as part of our wider care team. Creature Comforts also aims to engage our local communities through attracting volunteers, visitors, and local pet experts to our homes," she said.

Whiddon has previously run HenPower, an award-winning program which saw residents care for and rear chooks. The animals in the Creature Comforts program range from a mix of rescue animals, former guide dogs, and family pets.