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A Four-Legged Friend

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Several days a week the residents of St Francis Aged Care are joined by an extra member of staff.

However, you won’t find this employee on the payroll.

Lotte, a nine month old chocolate Labradoodle, has been visiting St Francis every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday since she was a little puppy. On these days, with the Home’s Pastoral Care Worker in attendance, Lotte does much of her good work as a trainee therapy dog.

“When Lotte arrived there was a lot of bonding to do. Lotte needed to get used to the Home - the smells, the sights, the people; and the people needed to get used to her,” says Sharon Hesse, Residential Manager at St Francis.

Therapy dogs like Lotte are an increasingly common sight in many Homes where they provide affection, comfort and love to the residents, while helping to improve socialisation, emotional wellbeing and more. Therapy pets are also known to have other positive impacts for aged care residents such as reducing stress, increased enthusiasm in everyday life and decreased symptoms of depression.

Lotte often serves as an icebreaker as she wanders the hallways of the Home under supervision. As employees move from room to room or navigate the Home, residents who might not usually stop and talk or engage socially are encouraged to give Lotte a pat or a scratch. Through this simple interaction Pastoral Care Workers can strike up a conversation and connect with residents who may usually be isolated or uncommunicative.

“We have a relatively young resident, Suzie, who suffers from advanced dementia. Lotte will climb up on her walker whilst Suzie wheels her around the unit. Suzie has a big smile on her face whenever this happens,” adds Sharon.

Lotte isn’t a certified therapy dog yet. Once she is 12 months old a locally based accredited trainer in Orange will take her for training, supervision and assessment. When she passes her tests she will become a registered therapy dog and be allowed to walk the Home without supervision.

In the meantime, Lotte continues to make a big difference in the lives of both staff and residents.

“St Francis now has an animal reflection area in the gardens with some furniture for employees and residents to use. The Pastoral Care Co-ordinator has started running prayer groups in this new space and Lotte joins them,” says Sharon.

“Lotte’s presence in the Home is great for the residents. Both residents and Lotte have developed a deep connection with each other. She is like family to many of them,” adds Sharon.