Put your best paw forward

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Fluffy friend: St John Invercargill area executive officer Tracy Kilkelly and her pooch Izzi. ST John Invercargill is looking for "four-legged and two-legged" volunteers to help with its newly-introduced Outreach Therapy Pets programme.

ST John Invercargill is looking for “four-legged and two-legged” volunteers to help with its newly introduced Outreach Therapy Pets programme.

St John Invercargill area executive officer Tracy Kilkelly said the initiative was aimed at providing human and animal friendship to rest-home residents.

“It would be ideal to have people who have had first-hand experience caring for people in rest-homes, [who] are committed to the programme, and have a calm, gentle-souled animal.”

The Invercargill team was looking for “as many candidates as possible” and was keen for people to come forward and volunteer themselves and their furry friends, she said.

Interviews would be conducted by St John staff and animals would be put through an assessment process with animal behaviourist Karl Thomas.

“Successful candidates will be able to build rapport with staff and residents which will be nice.” The organisation was “very grateful” Mr Thomas had offered to help out with assessing the animals, she said.

St John South Island community care manager Pam Hall said the programme had offered multiple benefits for people who had received the service in other areas of the South Island, as well as for their families.

“Outreach Therapy Pets generates a range of social benefits that contribute to the health, well-being and quality of life of people who receive the service.

“Most notably, the pet visits up’ residents and patients, which creates an immediate lift in their mood.”

She said rest-home staff had told her they had seen some smiles from people who did not normally share many: won’t say anything or do anything, but when the dog arrives he communicates with her and even talks to us.

One of the volunteers said, “One woman told me that her mother is much happier and started to socialise with others since I’ve been visiting with my dog. The daughter is happy knowing her mum is happy and making contact with people.”

The programme would be rolled out in Invercargill within the next few months.

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