Four-legged ‘therapists’

Some of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s (WCH) most loved helpers look a little different to what you’d expect.

Our four-legged, fur-covered friends are the Delta Therapy Dogs. They help kids get better in a fun and engaging way as part of the Collaborative Animal Assisted Therapy (C-AAT) program at the WCH.

C-AAT is a collaboration between the Women’s & Children’s Hospital Foundation’s (WCH Foundation) Arts in Health program, Delta Therapy Dogs and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network. The WCH Foundation arranges Delta Therapy Dog teams – a temperament assessed dog and their owner, to work as part of the Hospital’s Paediatric Rehabilitation Department.

Collaborative Animal Assisted Therapy with Delta Therapy Dogs

Mel Mason is an Occupational Therapist at the WCH. Her role is to help patients achieve their rehabilitation goals following a serious injury or illness.

“We use rehabilitation techniques and principles to work towards improving skills that will make a significant difference to a child’s level of function in their day to day lives. One of the ways is to work with a Delta Therapy Dogs team,” Mel said.

“For any therapy to be effective, it needs to be fun, meaningful and motivating. This relates to areas such as mobility, balance, strength or hand function, thinking skills, communication or social skills. Having access to the Collaborative Animal Assisted Therapy Program has a significant impact on our ability as therapists to deliver rehabilitation to children in this way.”

Delta Therapy Dogs provide a welcome distraction from some of the challenges that Hospital patients and families face.

“This can often be a time when many patients experience pain, anxiety, feelings of fear and uncertainty. The dogs bring a sense of joy and truly lift the spirits of the patients that access this service. There are obvious benefits to mood, motivation and participation during a Delta Therapy Dog session. As a therapist, this is invaluable,” Mel said.

Left to right: Clara, Mel and Harper.

Left to right: Clara, Mel and Harper.

Clara and Harper

Two-year-old Clara recently underwent surgery to remove a tumour from her spine. Mel has been working with Clara since her surgery. She recently introduced C-AAT with Delta Therapy Dog, Harper and his owner, Andrea.  Mel said that when she began treatment, Clara was fearful and anxious. She had difficulties moving her body in ways she had previously been able to.

“Clara was understandably wary of the hospital environment following her traumatic experience. Having the opportunity to engage Clara with the Delta Therapy Dogs has helped to build trust, develop rapport and associate her visits to the Hospital with fun, exciting and enjoyable experiences,” she said.

Clara’s sessions consist of activities like walking Harper, playing fetch, brushing his fur and feeding him treats. This encourages movement in an exciting way. The pair get along like best friends and the sound of Clara’s excited squeals are the best indicator that the program is well-received.

Animal Assisted Therapy: Clara undergoing fun rehabilitation with Delta Therapy Dog, Harper.

Clara undergoing fun rehabilitation with Delta Therapy Dog, Harper.

“In a short period of time, Clara has demonstrated amazing resilience, strength, determination and motivation. Not only has she made great physical improvements, she has shown all of us her beautiful, bright, bubbly and happy personality,” Mel said.

“Clara’s confidence has grown considerably. There are noticeable improvements in all aspects of her function thanks to the opportunity to incorporate Collaborative Animal Assisted Therapy into her rehabilitation program.”

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