Pebbles Proves Pets are Great Therapy

Pebbles, a border terrier with big fluffy ears, knows all about being loved and hugged, thanks to a special partnership between Lort Smith Animal Hospital and McAuley House. 

Every other Saturday afternoon, Pebbles arrives at McAuley House for a house visit, or an afternoon walk and play through Royal Park with some of the women residents.

It’s an outing she looks forward to, according to Pandora, Pebble’s owner and volunteer from Lort Smith Pet Therapy Program, not least because she loves the company and the walk but also because she enjoys the special attention.

“I love the opportunity for Pebbles and I to be available for others to join us in quality time that is centred around Pebbles. She is a loyal and devoted dog, so yes she does require quite a bit of attention from others to win her over, but it’s worth it,” said Pandora.

The partnership between Lort Smith and McAuley House began a year ago, when case workers approached the animal hospital to see whether they could be a partner in the pet therapy program.

“We had had a cat called Bella who became aggressive and we couldn’t keep her but we knew how valuable her role was in terms of providing an emotional contact for the women,” said Leonie Lawrence, recreation officer.

“The chance to be part of the program was too good an opportunity on many different levels,” she added.

Pebbles first met the women last year at the Christmas Carols’ concert. It was her first major event and her flashing Christmas collar was a photo opportunity that almost stole the show from the choristers.

Since then, the relationship has gone from strength to strength although Pandora acknowledges that the visits may be difficult for some of the women who are separated from their own pets.

Australian and international research has shown that pet owners have significantly lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels compared with people who do not have pets. Stress and anxiety, too, are not as high among pet owners.

Other research that addressed the therapeutic benefit of a companion dog for patients with schizophrenia revealed that the caring, human-canine relationship helped ground the patient in reality. Chronic mentally ill residents in supportive care homes who were visited by puppies had decreased depression after the visits, compared with a matched control group.

“When you look at the research findings through the eyes of a woman who has been homeless, you realise the importance of pet therapy and the value an animal can bring to a person’s life,” said Ms Lawrence.

Last year, the 93 women who came to McAuley House were homeless, 30% had experienced family violence, 34% were referred from hospital or mental health service and 73% had a mental health diagnosis and chronic physical condition.

“Many of the women who come to us have been through major trauma, find it hard to connect and have experienced years of limited social interaction,” said Ms Lawrence.

“Our program is about instilling life skills, boosting self confidence and awareness and encouraging the women to become involved,” she adds.

Raioni, a former McAuley House resident, said she always looked forward to seeing Pebbles.

“She is such a sweet and special dog and Pandora, her owner, is nice to talk to. I love animals so it was great to spend time with her, because I could not have a pet of my own at the time. I think it makes a real big difference to have an animal around, animals make most people happy.”

According to Leonie Lawrence, Pebbles adds a new dimension to the McAuley House program: getting them outside, being active, exploring a new neighbourhood and enjoying each other’s company in a different setting.

Pawnote from Pebbles:
Pandora believes that the only aspect of the arrangement that Pebbles questions is the bath before her visit.

“As the person administering this ‘benefit’ before visit, it must be said that she tolerates it, but is not thrilled about it,” said Pandora.