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Pet therapy warms the hearts of residents

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MOST people can't help but melt when they hear a small kitten purr, or the tiny bark of an excited young pup. But the impact of animals on the human psyche is proving to be significantly more effective than just a quick rush of blood to the heart. 

Research has shown that using animal to support positive experiences is proving to provide a profound contribution to the quality of life to residents in aged care services.

Most recently, Charles O'Neill Hostel at Mayfield West, Newcastle expanded their therapy programs to take an alternative turn – bringing an animal farm on site, as a direct focus of attention for their most fragile residents.

Largely catering for residents living with mental illness or from a marginalised background, the hostel often makes arrangements for residential excursions, including shuttle buses to the Hunter Valley, Sydney Aquarium and bingo – but not all residents are able to attend.

As a result, Recreational Activities Coordinator Wendy Pinch made an executive decision to bring the fun to them instead.

"I feel really passionate about ensuring each of our residents receives the benefits of our recreational services," Wendy said. "The pet therapy program coming directly to us has visibly changed the residents' lives."

The visit included rabbits, goats, ponies, lambs, chickens, ducks and guinea pigs that the residents could pet, feed and hug as long as they liked, and the experience was "priceless", according to Wendy.

"I looked at the physical difference it made to some of our more challenged residents and thought – this is why I believe in pet therapy. You just can't buy that."

She describes one particular resident who didn't feel up to leaving her room on the day of the animals' visit, so upon bringing the bunny straight to her – her mood instantly changed.

"Some of these residents have a real connection to animals, particularly those that come from a regional background or lived on a farm. It makes them remember what their lives were like when they were younger."

The pet therapy program continues at the hostel with the help of local business Orica, who sponsored the event and are taking a step towards arranging regular animal visits.