HEALTH care institutions are “screaming out” for volunteers to bring their dogs to centres across Limerick to improve the emotional health of patients.
Irish Therapy Dogs is a countrywide voluntary organisation with over 250 visiting teams consisting of the owner and their dog.
Their mission is to provide physical, therapeutic and educational benefit to people – young and old - in hospitals, nursing homes, day care centres, schools and other places where people may be restricted from having pets and where the presence of dogs, and their handlers, will add comfort and support.
“We have different institutions screaming out for people but we just don’t have the volunteers and their dogs -they are considered a team,” explained Anne Dundon from South Circular Road in Limerick city.
Anne who is a native of O’Connell Avenue takes Dora, her West Highland terrier on her weekly visit to St Camillus’ Hospital in Limerick city.
“Dora and myself have been going to St Camillus’ Hospital for over a year. We are so short of people in Limerick at the moment that I am doubling up and I am going to the rehabilitation centre once a fortnight. Everyone is asked to visit for an hour,” she explained.
During the visit, the volunteer brings the dog to either the bedside of a patient or the common room.
Both the volunteer and the dog wear their own uniform during the visit.
“Dora has to wear her yellow jacket, her collar and her lead because we are very strict on that - but once you go into the hospitals or the nursing homes we then remove the coats because first and foremost the dogs get very warm,” Anne explained.
As Dora does her rounds she sits on the laps of patients looking for her ears to be tickled and coat to be rubbed.
According to Anne it is “remarkable” to see the reaction when a dog enters a care centre.
“The patients actually love to feel the fur – they just love to be able to stroke her. Their faces absolutely light up when they see her coming,” she explained.
“People who had been quietly sitting, staring straight ahead, with no one to talk to, suddenly have a dog looking for their attention and their affection,” she added.
Research shows that children with autism will often react to and speak to a dog more readily than to a person.
“Some volunteers report that children enjoy the sessions where they all sit in turns to read to the dog,” Anne explained.
Irish Therapy Dogs visit care centres catering for all ages, and even though the organisation is quite vibrant in Limerick there is still a waiting list of care centres looking for volunteers and their dogs.
While there are also volunteers in Adare and Kilmeedy, many care centres and nursing homes are on the waiting list for visiting teams, especially in Kilmallock, Askeaton, Newcastle West and other areas of County Limerick as well as in Limerick city.
There are certain dogs that cannot be accepted including German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Pit Bull terriers and Bull Mastiffs.
Assessments of potential volunteers/teams were held in Limerick in January 2012.
One new volunteer, Elaine and her little dog Sunshine is welcomed every week to Croagh TLC Unit to a chorus of “You are my Sunshine” sung by the eager residents.
Anyone who would like to know more about Irish Therapy Dogs can contact the organisation at 01 2189302 or visit their website at www.irishtherapydogs.ie.