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Sharing the joy that companion animals bring

1st March 2019 | 5 min read

You don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate the positive impact that animals can have on people. Anyone who’s experienced the tiny paws of a puppy, the comforting cluck of a chicken or the tickly whiskers of a rabbit will recognise the feeling of joy animals can bring. Science does, however, help us understand why this positive effect occurs. Just a few minutes of interaction with an animal companion triggers an amazing reaction in the human body which lowers the stress hormone, cortisol; and increases the feel-good hormone, serotonin. It turns out, there really is science behind that warm and fuzzy feeling.

Creature comfort

Australians certainly love their pets. A remarkable 83% have owned a pet at some stage in their lives. Having to leave a treasured pet when moving into a care home can result in feelings of loss and loneliness. With this in mind, many Opal homes regularly welcome pets, accompanied by family members, to spend quality time with their owners and other residents. These visits from an animal companion provide a positive mutual topic for conversation and can stimulate memory and reminiscence.

For those living with dementia, studies have shown that interaction with animals can produce a measured decrease in agitated behaviours. The positive effects can also extend to a reduction in tension, fatigue, and confusion. With their friendly and non-threatening manner, animals can help people with dementia to be more interactive in social settings.

companion animals

All creatures great and small

The variety of animals that live in and visit our homes is remarkable. From the smallest day-old chick to the largest gentle giant, Great Dane; every day there are countless, heart-warming interactions between people and animals across the family of Opal homes.

It’s not unusual to walk into an Opal home and find a faithful dog flopped at the feet of a resident or a cat curled up in another resident’s lap, but one regular visitor to Murdoch Gardens might come as a surprise. Black Jack the Clydesdale Horse is a gentle giant who has caused quite a stir. Suffering a rare medical condition Black Jack was lovingly hand-raised by his devoted owner. His precarious start to life meant he has required a lot of human interaction over the years and it’s clearly something that he’s comfortable with. Whilst he has a lovely life on 5 acres with his other horsey mates, Black Jack’s owner felt his delightful nature should be shared with others. It’s from here his work as a therapy horse has developed. Black Jack visits Opal Murdoch Gardens to spend time with residents. The most surprising thing is that he even ventures inside the home. It’s no impediment if residents aren’t mobile – he simply goes to them, visiting them at their bedside.

Smaller, but no less impactful are the dogs that visit Opal homes together with volunteers from the Delta Society program. These amazing human and canine teams visit each week to offer a chat, a floppy ear to listen and a paw to shake, and everyone looks forward to their visits.

Opal Chiswick Manor receives a weekly visit from Elle and her charming little Jack Russell and Henry who has become something of a celebrity around the home. One of Henry’s favourite people to visit is Pat. A former dance teacher, Pat now has limited mobility – but that doesn’t stop her from making the most of Henry’s weekly visits. She is always the last stop on Henry’s rounds so that he can spend a little extra time with her. Pat has a picture of him in her room, and everyone in the home knows that the two have a special bond.

1 Australian Companion Animal Council

Click below to watch the heart-warming story of Henry, the aged care wonder-dog by The Telegraph journalist Gillian McNally to learn about the joy that companion animals bring to our homes.