31st Jul '20

Thought of sharing the joy of pet ownership?

Do you think your pet could do with a bit more socialising than they’ve been used to during the pandemic?

Well, when the health authorities say it’s safe again to go out and about - particularly to visit aged care homes which are going various stages of lockdown - consider signing up to our companion animal program.

The program sits under the umbrella Community Visitors Scheme, which it’s funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health. LiveBetter has 20 companion animal volunteers on its books and is looking to expand that post-pandemic.

Program Coordinator Jodie Hayes, who runs the program in the Riverina, says the scheme has been running for more than 40 years and targets the aged and people with a disability. The breed and type of pet doesn’t matter - over the years, they’ve had dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, birds, and a turtle.

“Aged care residents love it when a pet comes into their facility. Some of those residents have moved in and weren’t able to take their pets with them,” she says.

“So, to see a pet come through is absolutely priceless. It makes their day. I’ve turned up with a volunteer to induct them in the program, and one resident just burst into tears when she saw the animal come through the door.”

But for now, Jodie says the volunteers are “on hold for visiting” since February.

“A lot of our volunteers are often aged 70 plus, so are very nervous about coming out.”

A volunteer who’s not the stereotype, Amber O’Neill, who’s in her fifth year of vet science studies at Charles Sturt University’s Wagga campus. Along with her Border Collies, Brandi and Pippa, she’s been part of the companion animal program since October 2018.

Amber says: “I know Brandi really enjoys being with people. She’s very gentle. I also wanted to give back to the community here in Wagga, where I’ve been living while studying.

“It’s super rewarding being able to see the smiles on people’s faces. Before COVID-19 hit, I was seeing the difference we’re making in the long term as people recognise our weekly visits.”

Amber says she was surprised how much both parties got out of the visitors’ scheme. She describes Brandi as a “lap-size Border Collie”. She’s red in colour, three and a half years old and competes in agility and obedience competitions.

Brandi’s favourite tricks are responding to the commands ‘shake’, to shake herself, ‘bang’ to play dead, and ‘sit pretty,’ which she does in a beg position. Two-and-a-half-year old Pippa is “very lively”, too.

“I’ve been sending videos of Brandi to LiveBetter to keep the connection alive between Brandi and those she visits,” says Amber.

She also used to take her dog to visit a LiveBetter supported resident with a disability.

“We spent most of the first session sitting down and petting Brandi so Patrick could get used to her. We used to visit often, and he’d put her lead on her to take her for a walk in the backyard.

“Sometimes, he wanted us to leave. He’d take Brandi by the lead and wave at us to go. He was getting quite attached.”

If you and your pet would like to sign up for the scheme, you’ll need to commit to one to two hours volunteering a week. It will take a couple of weeks to do the paperwork and be inducted.

“Pets go through a screening process to ensure they’re suitable, which involves a vet check and temperament screening. We have to make sure they’re happy to be touched on their ears, head, feet, and tail and respond positively to people, aren’t too jumpy. Their nails need to be kept short so they don’t scratch people, and their immunisations need to be kept up to date, plus they need worming and flea treatment. Volunteers must have reference and police checks, too,” says Jodie.

For more information, contact Jodie from LiveBetter on 1800 580 580 (Mon to Fri) or 0439 303 134.