Our best friend during COVID-19

How pet therapy dogs are helping the mental health of our frontline healthcare workers.

Today as we are reminded to ask our colleagues and friends “R U OK?” we know that Lort Smith’s pet therapy volunteers and dogs are helping to make sure our frontline healthcare workers are just that by sharing the canine love.

In the past two weeks a small number of Lort Smith pet therapy dogs started visiting the hard working staff at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Lort Smith Head of Hospital, Dr David Cunliffe said, “Staff at the Peter Mac like so many other hospitals across Melbourne are in need of support at this time.

“So when a call came to Lort Smith from our friends at Peter Mac with concerns about the impact of the latest COVID-19 outbreak on their frontline healthcare workers, our pet therapy volunteers responded with a resounding “YES’’ to coming back to visit staff.

“We have a strong, positive partnership with Peter Mac staff, who see first-hand the incredible impact a dog’s presence can have on people experiencing acute distress, pain, and trauma. The staff go above and beyond to support our visiting volunteers and to provide the opportunity for people to benefit from the human-animal bond,” he said.

Although the Lort Smith Pet Therapy program began over 32 years ago as part of the community outreach services, it was originally designed for patients and residents in hospitals, aged care and juvenile justice facilities.

However, due to COVID-19 the volunteer pet therapy teams have been unable to visit the high-risk, vulnerable groups, and instead there has been a strong interest for pet therapy services as a support for healthcare workers.

“In non-COVID times, these incredible dogs from Lort Smith are a common sight in our inpatient wards,” said Peter Mac’s Chief Nursing Officer, Jac Mathieson.

“They always bring a smile to the faces of our patients and their visitors, and of course our staff.

“A massive thank you to Lort Smith for everything you are doing to support wellbeing at Peter Mac.”

Pet therapy is used in defence and first responder industries being recognised as an established measure for helping employers manage workplace stress and support mental health and wellbeing.

Lort Smith is an iconic Melbourne institution serving the community for 85 years, and is the busiest not-for-profit animal hospital in Australia, seeing around 25,000 animals each year.