Barbara and Yoda are a dynamic duo that have been volunteering with Lort Smith since 2019. As part of the Lort Smith Pet Therapy Program, Barb visits a facility each week with her specially assessed cavoodle, Yoda, to provide comfort and relief to people experiencing illness, adversity and loneliness.
Barb had previously volunteered with other animal focused organisations, including the Melbourne Zoo and Guide Dogs.
“I’ve always loved working with animals and I had a friend working in the kennels at Lort Smith. She loved it! So I thought I would look into it too,” shares Barb.
Before Pet Therapy teams can begin visiting partner facilities, they are assessed by qualified dog trainers and behaviourists. Barb explains that dogs need to be particularly calm and relaxed to visit facilities, and Yoda was no exception!
“At Yoda’s assessment, they waved around an open umbrella to see how the dogs would respond. He just turned around, sat, and stared at me, as if to say ‘what is all of this?!’ He was brilliant though, and just took it in his stride.”
Having trained as a pharmacist and worked in clinical research, Barb was particularly interested in visiting a healthcare facility, and she and Yoda started visiting the paediatric unit of a local hospital in 2019.
“What I do is hide Yoda behind me and poke my head around the door, and ask ‘Would you like to meet Yoda?’ The kids often say ‘Wow! Like from Star Wars?’ and then I bring him out and reveal he is actually a dog! The kids really love it.”
Barb has recently started visiting one of Lort Smith’s newer partner facilities, Curran Place.
“They’re always happy to see Yoda – and then they say hello to me! They don’t often have visitors so it’s really special to come in.”
Curran Place is a service of Uniting Victoria and Tasmania, and provides a short stay residential program for adults, and mothers and babies wishing to withdraw from alcohol and other substances. Many of the people in the facility have experienced a range of traumas and during detox, many emotions surface.
Barb and Yoda’s visits help residents experience positive emotions, connection and comfort. Some residents really connect with Yoda, and they throw a ball for him and have a play. Other times, he’ll quietly sit with someone on a couch and comfort them just by being there.
“We’re there to support the staff too though. After one of my first visits I had a staff member surprise me with a hug and thanked me for coming, because it makes such a difference to her and the residents,” shares Barb.
Barb says the most rewarding part of her visits is making people smile, and knowing that she’s brightened someone’s day.
“They always say it helps so much – and it’s great for Yoda too! He has a special toy he only plays with when we visit, and he gets his favourite treats while we’re there. He knows when I pull out my blue shirt and his little Lort Smith bandana that we’re going, and he gets so excited!”
Barb and Yoda are an amazing team, and proud members of our Lort Smith volunteer base. We are so grateful to have them on board, and looking forward to celebrating them this National Volunteer Week!