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Are you feeling lonely?

A regular visit from a four-legged friend can make a world of difference to seniors who are feeling isolated or depressed.

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With over 63 percent of Australian households now owning pets – one of the highest rates worldwide – it’s safe to say that we recognise and appreciate the countless benefits they provide. On top of offering ongoing companionship and unconditional love, pets have also been linked with significant psychological and health benefits for their owners.

In some cases, circumstances or health issues can prevent people from properly caring for pets as they get older. Kylie Doherty from Delta Society says that pet therapy can offer an ideal solution in these tough situations.

What is pet therapy?

Pet therapy is the use of trained animals to provide affection, comfort and joy to individuals in hospitals, care facilities and retirement villages.

With over 1,000 volunteers across Australia, Delta Society is one of the most prominent organisations offering pet therapy and their results speak for themselves.

“Delta therapy dog teams have encouraged residents to leave the confines of their rooms for the first time in months, to extend their hand post-stroke or surgery, to walk, to talk, to smile, to laugh, to remember, to forget, and to reminisce about their own animals.”

Who is pet therapy best suited to?

While pet therapy is beneficial for everyone, it is ideal for those who lack any other avenues with which to engage and interact with animals, such as people who are confined to bed or have low mobility.

What are the benefits?

Pet therapy has been shown to provide many of the same emotional, physical and cognitive benefits as pet ownership. They can include:

  • Stimulation of senses
  • Assistance with pain management
  • Increase in motivation to move and walk
  • Stimulation of memory and problem solving ability
  • Increase in self esteem
  • Calming effect
  • Lifted mood

In her work as a Delta volunteer, Kylie has seen all of these results in action and says that visiting pets can make a huge difference to an environment’s atmosphere:

“The smiles on faces say it all! Even those who don’t like dogs give us a wave and say hello.”

How can I get involved?

If you think that pet therapy might benefit you or someone you love, ask around and find out whether there’s a branch of Delta Society in your local area. Keep in mind that most organisations offering pet therapy are volunteer-run and may require an annual donation to cover expenses.

If you aren’t in a position that requires traditional pet therapy but still crave a regular dose of animal companionship, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter or offering to pet-sit for friends or family members.

On the other hand, if you have a well-trained pet and some extra time on your hands, you can apply to become a pet therapy volunteer and help to spread joy to those who need it most!

Kylie Doherty is the co-ordinator of the Albury Wodonga branch of Delta Society and regularly visits RetireAustralia’s Murray Gardens Retirement Village with Taz the Delta Therapy Dog.

Find out more about Delta Society by visiting their website.

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