For those bomb proof Mastiffs that nothing seems to phase there are various therapy programs that they can join. These usually involve some form of testing to ensure that they can cope with the environments that they can assist in.
This page is devoted to those club members and their dogs that have taken part in a therapy program and appart from the great publicity that this gives the Breed that is nothing to the happiness that these wonderfull dogs can bring to those that they visit.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009 This 109kg pooch will make you paws for a smile. Clinton, the purebred mastiff, brought laughter to Berwick last week when he visited patients at Southern Health’s Casey adult Psychiatric Unit as
part of Dog’s Victoria's Therapy Dogs Program.
His Emerald owner, Dogs Victoria volunteer Gabrielle Simmonds, said it was the first time the program had been tried in a psychiatric ward. “Traditionally the dogs visit patients in aged-care homes but we branched out and the response has been wonderful,” she said.
“The patients really interact with him and he loves the attention,” Patient Jonathon, 40, said Clinton made him feel “calm and happy”. “He has a rough calmness about him but he’s very placid and he doesn’t judge anyone, he just loves our company,” he said. Nurse unit manager Kritsy-Lee Alan said the program brought
a positive energy to the ward. “Some patients are often fearful to come out of their rooms but animals seem to relax them, triggering happy childhood memories and bringing them out of their shell, “ she said.
Bronx and I had decided that he was becoming bored and was spending a little too much time laying about the house being idle so, after a little consideration, we decided to put his time to better use by volunteering him for some worthwhile community minded duties. Gabrielle had sown the seed when Bronx first came to live with us by suggesting that, with his gentle nature, he would be ideally suited for therapy visits, and acting on her good advice I contacted the Lort Smith Animal Hospital to see what volunteer programs were running. We soon learnt of the Pets Are Loving Support (PALS) Program which has been running for 20 years and is a free service provided by the Lort Smith Animal Hospital. The program coordinates visits to hospitals, rehabilitation centres, hostels and nursing homes by volunteers accompanied by their own assessed and approved dogs. The program’s aim is to help improve the wellbeing of atients/residents through positive contact with visiting volunteers and their dogs. I contacted Wendy Lake - Manager Volunteer Services and she advised me of a soon to be held information session, these are human only sessions (you have to leave your animal companions at home for the night). The evening was a relaxed, informative one hour session which included a briefing and a short DVD montage of TV news and current affair programs featuring the good work being done by the Lort Smith volunteers and their canine companions. After question time, information and application packs were handed out, followed by a short tour of the cattery/kennels during which Wendy described the various aspects of the hospital. It is both heartwarming and a comfort to know that there are dedicated, quality people out there actively and passionately involved in helping and caring for our four legged friends when they are in need and most vulnerable.
The next step was to come in for an interview once the application forms were filled out and police and working with children checks were cleared (Lort Smith covers the cost of these). Once again, this is a relaxed, informal session with Wendy during which she assesses the suitability of the volunteer by drawing out life experiences and attitudes in conversation. We then arranged a temperament assessment for Bronx, and along with three other volunteers our session was conducted at the Kingston Centre, Cheltenham on Saturday 25th October. The assessment was conducted by Paul Gale, coincidently a New Yorker born and bred “in the Bronx” who was understandably rapt when introduced to ‘The Bronx’ himself; “Love the dog, Love the name”! When attending these sessions the person bringing the dog for testing must be the one who will be visiting with it. More than one member of the family can handle a dog so long as they both attend for testing (children under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a responsible adult for visiting). The dog must be on a lead (normal length dog lead, collar or correction collar - no haltis, harnesses or extender leads).
The session lasted about two hours, firstly outside and then into one of the wards for a short visit. It was conducted at the rotunda in the foregrounds of the centre and began with Paul explaining the process in detail, he said he was going to greatly exaggerate some of the behaviours and noises the dogs might be exposed to when working the wards. The theory being, that if they can handle bizarre behaviour of that ilk, then their response to much milder behaviours within the wards could be predicted with a degree of confidence. Paul worked with each dog and owner individually, and with the others looking on he leapt and pranced about ranting and raving, alternatively stalking, then rushing and lunging at the dogs in a silly but non-threatening manner, he rewarded every positive reaction with a liver treat, a friendly hug and brisk “good dog” rub. We then moved to a path where Paul, acting as though he had cerebral palsy, approached the line up of seated dogs in a wheelchair, and pausing before each in turn, he patted them firmly on the head whilst slurring his words and rolling his head as he spoke loudly, his face inches away from theirs. With a couple of startled exceptions, all the dogs responded well, Bronx in particular was very laid back and with a ‘thump, thump’ of his tail, took it all in his stride, his most notable reaction was the look of condescending pity that he gave to the loopy bugger dishing out the liver treats. We then moved back to the rotunda where Paul had us line up with the dogs sitting, he slipped quietly behind them and wordlessly dropped a metal bed pan from full height onto the brick paving, the resulting clatter had one dog leap and almost twist out of it’s collar, the other two spun around in with a concerned look on their dials. Bronx simply glanced over his shoulder with an “oops, you’ve dropped your bedpan” look and lay down with his head on his paws in exasperation, obviously thinking “this fella’s a complete basket case”. We had a short break while Paul wrote comments on his assessment, then, under Paul’s guidance, we took turns at introducing the dogs individually to the elderly patients and residents. Because of his sheer size Bronx was an immediate hit the moment he entered the ward and was soon visiting those individuals in their wheelchairs and beds that were showing an interest in him. The delight on those faces as they were patting him was a treat to see, one or two were a little wary and didn’t want him near them, but even they couldn’t take their eyes off him. He certainly broke the monotony of the daily routine for both the excited staff and their charges. Once again Bronx demonstrated just how amicable and compliant he is, he has a gentleness and sensitivity that shines through on such occasions and it is a privilege to witness. Needless to say, he passed the assessment with flying colours and in Paul’s opinion “will make a great PALS dog”. Bronx will now become part of a team of four that will rotate through the weeks, once a month we will take turns to visit from 1½ hrs to 2hrs (or even longer or more often if everyone is agreeable). The next step is a supervised visit before we fly solo for a couple of months, if all is well we will then include the dialysis ward at St Vincent’s Hospital in our visits. He is not the only Mastiff or giant breed to work in this manner, Wendy spoke of a retired 80kg “long haired Mastiff” and a Great Dane which is currently involved in the PALS program. Brodie Hobbs also mentioned in discussion recently that, on occasion, she has taken Mastiff puppies in to the nursing home where she works as well (on her own initiative and to her credit). Some of these residents have very little in their lives and even a short visit from a four legged friend will lift their spirits and give them something to look forward to and reflect upon. A number of dogs have retired lately and at the time of writing there was a shortage of volunteers, don’t underestimate your pooch, if you would like to try it out, have him/her assessed; you may be surprised. The people at the Lort Smith Animal Hospital are like minded and friendly. You are not locked into the program, if you need time out or are unable to continue, you are able to suspend your involvement or resign without any pressure to stay on. It is a good way to share, with those that would benefit most, the unique experience the Mastiff brings to our lives. PALS information sessions are held regularly. If you are interested in becoming a PALS volunteer
Story by Clive Saultry - Bronx's owner