Volunteers come in all different shapes and sizes – and species!
Harry the Labrador has become a firm, furry favourite among seniors at Willowbrooke aged care residence in Upper Ferntree Gully since he began visiting with his owner, Raelene Olsen, around six months ago.
Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) is lucky enough to have the support of more than 630 volunteers who donate their time and talents to brighten the lives of the older people, children and adults with disabilities, their families and carers.
Harry is among eight canine volunteers who visit various VMCH aged care residences across Melbourne, bringing joy to seniors. Recently he became a bona fide volunteer, receiving his very own I.D card.
Raelene, who is a long-time volunteer of the not-for-profit organisation, says the response from residents towards eight-year-old Harry has been “fantastic”.
“When he’s not sniffing under the tables for crumbs the residents sit next to him and give him a pat and reminisce about their own dogs, who they no longer care for. Those who are non-verbal just seem to get a good feeling from being around Harry. One fellow who always sits on his own and keeps to himself was at first a bit reticent, but now he puts his hand out to stroke the dog and you can see his eyes light up when Harry comes in.”
Raelene described the pair’s fortnightly visits as “rewarding”.
“There are so many people in aged care who don’t get any visitors so it’s nice to give something back. And Harry enjoys it… he’s a beautiful dog with a calm and laidback attitude, nothing bothers him.”
VMCH Volunteer Services Engagement Coordinator Molly O’Shannassy said pet therapy had many benefits.
“It provides a welcome distraction for residents who may be in chronic pain, provides mental stimulation, helps with reminiscence (for people living with dementia) and can help increase social interaction,” she said.
“Interacting with a furry friend helps residents focus on the present and can reduce stress and anxiety. Bringing in their pet also gives the volunteer a purposeful role to play in residents’ lives and helps them to get to know each other in a meaningful way.”