Director Nicole reflects on her dream to become an Animal Assisted Therapist....
I've always been an animal lover with a keen interest in Animal Assisted Therapy. Following my graduation as an Occupational Therapist in 2002 I was keen to undertake a research project exploring the benefits of Pet Therapy, and even had lined up a supervisor at Latrobe University, however I needed to prioritise full time employment.
My interest was again piqued a few years later in 2009, when my daughter's swimming instructor took temporary ownership of a Guide Dog puppy in training. The little pup came along to the pool and I was fortunate enough to get a cuddle. I must have been besotted, as I wrote about the experience in a blog post on another forum at the time.
Guide Dogs are well known to the general community, and most people are aware that these dogs are great companions for people who have a visual impairment. The many other benefits of dog ownership and the use of dogs in therapeutic situations, are not as well known.
Most dog owners will tell you that their pets are great company, good for keeping away unwanted guests, great at eating food thrown on the floor, and provide motivation for getting some exercise. These benefits are fairly obvious. What you may not realise, is that there are also health benefits to dog ownership. There has been some excellent research conducted by psychologists and other health professionals, that has found that pets can improve your mood and help depression and loneliness, reduce stress and lower blood pressure, and promote a healthier lifestyle.
Because of these benefits, dogs have been introduced into therapeutic situations. They can be used to provide motivation for children with movement difficulties, or act as a calming influence for people who may have an anxiety disorder. Read this abstract from an article to find out how a dog helped a child with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In addition to being used in therapy settings, (just like Darcy and I!) dogs have also been trained as Assistance Dogs. These animals are able to help people who have a disability that prevents them from independently completing some tasks such as opening doors and retrieving items.
If you are interested in reading more, or in helping to support one of these fantastic causes, please click on these links:
Darcy and Nicole graduate as an Animal Assisted Therapy team (2016)