Pets put smiles on dials

PUTTING a smile on someone’s face, especially a child, when they are in hospital can be extremely beneficial.

The young patients at Shoalhaven District Hospital’s children’s ward are now set to benefit from a generous donation from Nowra man Kevin Cummins, which is assured to do just that – put smiles on faces.

Mr Cummins, who has been a long-time supporter of the children’s ward, has funded the Paws Pet Therapy group to make regular visits with their pets and therapy dogs.

“I have seen and heard about this program and I just thought it would be great for the young patients at the hospital’s children’s ward,” he said.

“It was a no brainer. If it can help children in their recovery, why wouldn’t you try it?”

Mr Cummins has funded the program for the next 12 months.

“The kids’ eyes light up when they see the dogs on the ward,” he said.

“And that is great to see.”

Children’s ward nurse unit manager Colleen Foy said research had shown there are many benefits for patients who get a visit from the pets.

“I have heard of other programs running at the Royal Melbourne Hospital – it actually has a mini zoo there with meerkat displays – while Sydney Children’s Hospital also runs a similar program,” she said.

“Research has shown the programs have great benefits, even in the amount of pain relief some patients may require and it provides the children with overall happiness.

“We have seven children oncology patients who currently make regular visits to the hospital for treatment and we will try to ensure the Paws visits coincide with some of those treatments.”

It is planned for the dogs to visit once a month, but Mrs Foy said the visits were flexible and volunteers might also be available to make special visits.

Paws Pet Therapy volunteers Dawn Spicer with six-year-old golden retriever Bear and Samantha Egan with the two-year-old Lagotto (an Italian waterdog) called Coco made their first visit to the children’s ward on Tuesday, much to the delight of the young patients.

“The dogs love it and we get as much out of it as the children,” Dawn said.

“The kids love to have a pat, a cuddle, or just see the dogs.”

“Coco just loves the attention, and she will often hop up on the bed [lying on special blankets] just to be near the patients,” Samantha said.

Paws Pet Therapy founder Sharon Stewart said the not-for-profit

organisation trained volunteers and their dogs to provide specialised pet therapy to people with special needs.

“There are no age barriers or restrictions on the types of dogs that can take part in the program,” she said.

“We have dogs of all ages, sizes and breeds, they just need to be trainable, healthy and sociable.”

The dogs undergo strict health regimes under the guidance of veterinarians and the volunteers follow strict hygiene practice and in some cases even have to be vaccinated to be able to work in certain wards.

“We visit a variety of different facilities, catering for anyone with special needs, be they nursing homes, rehabilitation centres, oncology or children wards,” she said.

While based in the Southern Highlands, Paws Pet Therapy has now expanded taking in the coast as well.

It has 28 volunteers who visit a dozen different locations but is always looking for more volunteers to take part in the program.

For further information about the program, visit www.pawspet

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