The therapeutic power of pooches

An innovative program at Austin Health brings the therapeutic power of pooches from the home
to the hospital and it's having a phenomenal impact.

"The whole mood of a ward can change when the dog arrives. The staff relax. The patients and families are often distracted from the reason they are in hospital. People have a bit of fun," Volunteer Services Manager Tracey O'Neill enthuses.

In 2016‑17 more than 500 patients, families and staff in the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, Paediatrics Ward and Acute Psychiatric Unit have received visits from furry friends thanks to a partnership between Lort Smith and Austin Health.

Volunteer Marilynn Ross says her dog Lulu has a great impact on the cancer patients she visits.

"Just last week one of the patients said I've been trying to manage my pain and Lulu has just got me through it," Marilynn says.

A visit from their dog spurs people to open up and discuss everything from cherished memories, to fears about death and dying.

"Often patients will want to have those conversations with volunteers that they wouldn't feel comfortable having with their families," Tracey says.

All volunteers undertake training, which includes education about grief, loss and dying and what it's like to have those conversations, for those who visit Palliative Care.

Plans are underway to extend the program across additional areas of Austin Health in 2018.