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Purrfect Therapy Dogs In The Hills


Caption The Volunteers Of Hills Pet Buddies Purrfect Therapy Dogs In The Hills
The volunteers of hills pet buddies

When SOPHIE POREDOS heard about pets being used as therapy in local aged care homes she wanted to know more.

This group of pet-enthusiasts bring their friendly canines to various aged care facilities across the Hills, spreading joy and companionship. Glenhaven local Sandra Merhi founded Hills Pet Buddies in 2016 as she wanted to bring connection to aged-care residents, who may often feel isolated.

Therapy dogs often remind residents of their own loved pets and are a positive addition to aged-care homes. Even the science backs it up, with therapy dogs providing reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increasing the bonding hormone oxytocin. With previous experience in dog therapy, Sandra believes strongly in offering a volunteer service to reach more of her community:

“We break down barriers by getting people to engage with the animals as they are nonjudgmental. From our visits, people often come out of the shell and can be themselves. Our dogs have unconditional love and accept our residents as they are”.

The volunteer-led team of twelve visit eight locations including Arcare Glenhaven, Cranbrook Care in Bella Vista Gardens and Dural House, where I was able to tag along with the gorgeous Cocker Spaniel, Leo.

Many of the residents we visited were overjoyed when they saw Leo, as they were offered to brush or to pet his head. Their faces lit up as they told stories of their own pets, reminiscing on their past and connecting with his owner Caroline, who is a Castle Hill local.

Leo Visiting His Favourite Residents At Dural House With Owner Caroline Copy Purrfect Therapy Dogs In The Hills
Leo visiting his favourite residents at dural house with owner caroline

Caroline told me about how much Leo and herself, looked forward to these visits; “I love volunteering with Hills Pet Buddies, it’s so rewarding. Leo is a very special dog, just a 5 minute visit from Leo is enough to brighten anyone’s day. I love that I get to share him with other people. He just loves all the attention and the extra treats he gets!”

Hills Pet Buddies is looking to expand their services and would love some more friendly pets for a rewarding volunteering experience. New animals don’t need to be trained but must be calm and enjoy interacting with a variety of people. If you have a spare hour every week or two, Sandra Merhi would love to hear from you on 0417 675 220. You can pursue the photos on the ‘Hills Pet Buddies’ Facebook page for an extra boost of serotonin.

Battling against the stigma for mental health, the Positive Vibes Foundation created the Paw Visits in 2018 to spread companionship within aged care facilities across the Hills and Parramatta.

Director Mario Rodrigues, dog-owner to Daisy, is the founder of the project, believing that dogs can reduce anxiety and depression for many of their residents: “Seeing the residents light up when we come to them and how the dogs are happy to engage is perhaps my favourite experience with the charity. Our dogs provide emotional support and encourage communication for lonely residents – that is why we have this program.”

Paw Visits thrives with its very helpful team of 20 volunteers, visit six nursing homes including Arcare Glenhaven, Moran Aged Care in Kellyville and Arcare Oatlands. The program is incredibly rewarding for volunteers who have the chance to meet and form connections with regular residents.

Benny And His Owners Elisa And Jurgen Far Right With Other Volunteers Copy Purrfect Therapy Dogs In The Hills
Benny and his owner’s elisa and jurgen (far right) with other volunteers

Jurgen and Elisa are Kellyville locals and volunteers with the program, whose Border Collie Benny loves interacting with the residents: “The residents love Benny’s soft fur and gentle nature.

We noticed how much Elisa’s mum enjoys a visit from Benny at her home and worry how lonely it can be for an elderly person in residential care. We hope that Benny’s visits can brighten someone’s day, calm any anxiety they may have or rekindle happy memories of their own dogs”.

Lifestyle Coordinator at Arcare Glenhaven Elissa Hay, commented on the positive impact of residents during their weekly visits: “Weekends are more exciting with the addition of our wonderful volunteers from Positive Vibes. The joy on our resident’s faces and the feeling of happiness when they interact with the volunteers’ four legged furry friends is second to none”.

Mario Rodrigues is looking for more volunteers and asks dog owners to consider joining even if they haven’t had previous therapy dog training; “Whilst some dog owners might be hesitant to bring their dog because they are ‘too friendly’, often they will calm down around the residents in the room. We do ask that dogs are dewormed and are at least 18 months old.”

You can enquire about your canine friend through the Positive Vibes email [email protected] or call Mario Rodrigues on 0414 747 603.

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