One heart speaking to another
Rusty Knows Best!
Bonnie (German Shepherd) story
The Benefit Of Pets In A Melbourne Rehabilitation Centre
The first pets as therapy visit
I suppose I should start with my own story.
Let me begin at the beginning. Several years ago, I became suddenly ill with a vague and strange illness called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
C.F.S. is considered by some to be a virus of the brain resulting in muscular spasm and pain; flu-like symptoms; impairment of the immune system, thoughts, speech, memory, bodily movement and energy. I was feeling as if I had been ‘hit by a truck’. So, I went to bed and got up two and a half years later! It took a further four years or more to build up my strength, stamina, and fitness.
For many years, I was unable to participate in any social or working activity. I felt imprisoned in my own body. I felt useless and my self-confidence and self-esteem were at an all-time low because of this.
During this time Honey, my dear little miniature poodle, was my constant, loyal, and loving companion. Having her with me all the time, to share my secret fears (of possibly never recovering) and hopes and dreams, kept me sane. Her loving kisses, cuddles, and affection prevented loneliness and kept my spirits up.
When talking and communicating with people was difficult and frustrating, I could easily communicate, non-verbally, with Honey. I felt that she ‘just understood’ my thoughts and feelings. I promised Honey that when I was better, I would take her for the most wonderful walks to make up for all the ones she had missed out on.
As I slowly recovered I realised just how important and significant Honey was, in her constant companionship and in the aid of my recovery. And as a lifelong animal lover, I decided that when I was up to it, I would choose a career working exclusively with animals and promoting the animal/human bond.
When that time came, I joined an organisation which trained volunteers and their pets to visit health care facilities. Within a very short time I became aware of how ‘visiting pets’ could lift the spirits of people living without them and could change a clinical atmosphere into a room full of joy, just by being present. And with specific pet therapy, people could improve their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.
With my background as a human psychotherapist and knowing exactly what it feels like to be frail, ill, immobile, in pain, misunderstood and unable to clearly communicate, I knew that I could produce a professional and truly beneficial pet therapy program and Velma’s Pets As Therapy was founded.
It brings me great personal satisfaction to know that our Program is providing the opportunity for around 15,000.00 people per year, living without pets, to experience the purest pleasure, joy, stimulation, entertainment and companionship pet therapy can bring.
Velma Violet Harris
Founder and Manager Of Velma’s Pets As Therapy
This is a story from one of our volunteers about her wonderful experience on a ‘pets as therapy’ visit with a lady experiencing dementia.
There was a lady across the room looking for a way into her own world. She gently rocked, eyes down, whilst playing with the corners of her tray, which was attached to her chair and securing her safely there. Her stiff fingers circled the corners of the tray.
When I first introduced my dog Millie to Doris there was little response from her. But after a few visits and my persistent smiles, Doris allowed me to gently place her hand on Millie’s soft, furry back. I was thrilled though our eyes never met. With a little help, Doris enjoyed patting Millie in circling motions, which must have felt much nicer than the tray. Most times I visited the nursing home I was told, “not to bother” with Doris but I felt Doris could understand I was there and never left her out.
This continued for the best part of a year but then, wow! On today’s visit, when I placed Doris’s hand as usual on Millie’s back, Doris held my arm, pulled me closer and gave me full-on eye contact. At first she had a few tears, and then her face transformed into the most beautiful beaming smile. No words needed to be spoken between us. One heart was speaking to another. The message was loud and clear to us. Doris had loved our visits and some how today, she found a way to convey that to me. It was a wonderful experience and one, which shall remain with me forever.
I was so touched that I cried all the way home and I know Millie could feel my joy. On arriving home I felt compelled to write this story and a little poem.
Always, always bother
For when touched my friend, by another
Is overwhelming to the bone
You too will cry all the way home
Although far away and distant apart
I know a person who still has a heart
Cheryl Crabb and Millie (Bichon)
Velma’s Pets As Therapy Volunteer
One of our trained pets as therapy dogs Rusty, a female Golden Retriever, was visiting a nursing home with her mum, a pets as therapy volunteer.
The Diversional Therapist suggested not visiting one fellow as he had just suffered a stroke and was semi-conscious and he wouldn’t know Rusty was there. But Rusty had other intentions. Rusty refused to walk past the man’s room. Rusty’s mum used her instincts and asked the D.T. if Rusty could visit anyway. The three quietly entered the room. Rusty insisted on jumping up on the bed ever so gently and snuggled up under the man’s arm. The man responded by turning towards Rusty and put his arm around her. The two looked very comfortable and Rusty’s mum and the DT left the room to give the two some quiet time together.
About 10 minutes later, Rusty’s mum and the DT reentered the room to find the man had peacefully passed away in Rusty’s arms.
When the relatives were informed, Rusty’s mum was advised that the man had loved dogs all his life and they were reassured that his passing was how he would have wanted it.
Volunteer preferred to withhold her name.
I have a confession: I love to work! If you ask me, I’ve been in training for work since the day I was born! My name is Bonnie and I am a three-year-old German Shepherd. I am a volunteer with ‘Velma’s Pets As Therapy’ and I would like to take this opportunity to tell you all about my work. There is nothing more satisfying to me than bringing joy to people’s lives. When I walk into a children’s hospital and everyone greets me with smiles, laughter, kisses and cuddles, I think that I must have the best job in the world!
Marianne Caleno and Bonny (Black German Shepherd)
Velma’s Pets As Therapy Volunteers
I was very excited to discover your web site. I am an activities co-ordinator in an outpatient rehabilitation center, based in Melbourne. Our own pet program has been running for about one year. So far we have had cats, rabbits, goats and a horse. We have had such wonderful experiences with our clients and the animals and some very positive outcomes from our pet therapy program.
It is great to hear nurses comment on how a patient has not smiled in weeks, and then start “beaming” when they see one of the dogs.
The best moment for me was introducing a mini pony to a Farmer who had taken a massive stroke. The stroke had left him non-communicative and very agitated. When he saw the pony he became focused and relaxed, he brushed and fed the pony. It was just wonderful to see the effect.
We take photos of the pet visiting the patient and give a copy to the patient. I find the photo is really important to the patient, much more than I first realised. We have found staff particularly positive about the program.
Anyway, it’s nice to have made contact with someone who can relate to the value of pets in the health settings.
Bye for Now
Well here we are ahead of time
We are going to be great
We are going to be fine
Have I remembered the visit sheet
The lead, the scarf, a smile so sweet
I didn’t get lost the trip I planned
Nothing at all got out of hand
We’ve stuck closely to Velma’s plan
A walk, the loo and an outstretched hand
As we are led into the activity room
Our job will begin now very soon
“Isn’t he lovely” They all say ooh & aah
Everything’s going all right so far
Louie cuddles up on a resident’s lap
I have to remind him he’s not here for a nap
He’s brushed and he’s patted and kissed
He returns it all with many a lick
The resident who says I don’t like dogs or I’m afraid
Soon come round to Louie’s way
Those big caring eyes
Say, “Pat me you’ll be surprised”
How gentle and loving I really am.
I like this job, that’s why I came
The visit is over we go on our way
But we’ll be back another day.
Irene Johnson and Louie (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel)
Velma’s Pets As Therapy volunteers
If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat plain food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
Then you are probably… The Family Dog!