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Beloved Benji – St James Villa’s most popular resident

Blind, toothless and formerly homeless, a special new resident is transforming the lives of those living at St James Villa, Matraville one cuddle at a time.

Benji, the beloved Pomeranian, didn’t have any prospects until residential facility manager Lisa Spencer adopted him from the Sydney Dogs and Cats Home in an aim to bring happiness and joy to the lives of residents at St James Villa, which he has delivered in spades.

Lisa explains the collective reaction to the nine-year-old pooch’s arrival as “nothing short of remarkable”, with residents taking to him like wildfire and crediting their four-legged friend with everything from improving their health to alleviating their anxiety and depression.

Catholic Healthcare uses assisted animal therapy in its residences because of the many clinical and emotional benefits for residents. The addition of a loving pet to a persons' living environment can produce an automatic relaxation response, providing comfort and lowering anxiety. 

Clinically, animal therapy is linked to lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, reducing overall physical pain, increasing joint movement and assisting patient recovery time. It has also been proven to lift spirits and fight depression.

"The idea to adopt Benji was sparked by a trip to Amsterdam, where I toured a number of progressive aged care facilities and saw the benefits of pet ownership for the elderly first-hand.

"It’s proven that interaction with gentle and friendly pets can produce significant health benefits for residents’ physical and mental health," Lisa said.

One elderly resident who had been suffering deteriorating health and had doctors fearing the worst, says that since Benji’s arrival, he doesn’t have a worry in the world: “He is a gorgeous little fella. Since Ben arrived, I got much better,” Alex* said.

Another St James Villa resident credits Benji with her vastly improved mood and quality of life – “I used to be quite depressed but now Benji is here, I am so happy. We walk together, he comes into my room and I lay down with the pillow and he gets in behind me and snuggles in. He’s adored by everyone,”  Jan* said.

While residents welcomed Benji into his new home with open arms, adjusting to his new surroundings proved a little bumpy at first.

“We use lavender drops to mark the centre of the facility corridors to help Benji navigate his way around. He’s now able to safely make his way around the home and makes regular, random visits to residents’ rooms,” Lisa explained.

The physical and mental health benefits of animal therapy have been endless and come highly recommended by Benji’s adoring fans.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

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