Sue and Charlie have been volunteering with the Lort Smith Pet Therapy Program since 2015. Charlie is a 10-year-old chocolate border collie.
“He has exceptional skills in scrounging free love from anybody by sitting next to them and leaning in to the person’s leg until he gets a pat, and he can hear a biscuit packet being opened at 100 paces,” laughs Sue.
Sue is a part-time radiographer at Sunshine Hospital. She realised Charlie would make a great pet therapy dog after seeing her poorly father’s face light up when Charlie came to visit.
“Charlie would sit patiently next to him, and my dad would stroke his head saying ‘I like dogs.’ It was around this time that Sunshine Hospital asked if anybody had a suitable dog and would be interested in joining the program. I knew Charlie would be perfect,” shared Sue.
Together, Charlie and Sue visit the palliative care and secure dementia wards. Sadly, there is a relatively rapid turnover of patients in these areas, so they don’t always get much continuity of patients. Often Sue and Charlie find themselves spending time with family of patients who are needing a distraction or a friendly face not attached to the process of dying.
“In palliative care, a mother was lying semi-comatose in her bed, her two daughters were sitting beside her. When we entered, the daughters were so excited. They told me that they loved animals, and this came from their mother who would always take in stray animals when they were young. They wished their mum was awake to see Charlie as they once had a border collie. One daughter took her mum’s hand and put it down to touch Charlie’s head, hoping for a response. Charlie looked up and licked the mum’s hand. ‘Oh Mum, he is giving you a kiss’ said one daughter, and we all dissolved in tears,” shares Sue.
Sue thinks Lort Smith does a great job with its volunteer induction, assessment and ongoing support. And helped her see beyond the rose coloured glasses.
“Lort Smith is mindful not only of the animals’ wellbeing, but also of the volunteer. The pet therapy mentoring program, of which I am a mentor, is a new addition since we began. I hope that my honest personal accounts and support has been useful to the mentees assigned to me,” says Sue.
Sue believes volunteering fills two important purposes; the ability for many organisations to even exist is reliant on people donating their time e.g. sporting clubs, scouting; and for personal fulfilment.
“I feel selfish sometimes because I get so much back from the volunteer experience. It is a chance to help somebody – whether it be physical or just to bring a smile. I think you develop as a person by witnessing situations and interacting in different ways from your normal lifestyle,” says Sue.
Thank you Sue and Charlie for providing such an important service to not only patients, but sometimes more importantly, to families coming to terms with the ailing health of their most loved ones.