The power of animals

Meet Dreamy, the special Shetland pony who brings unbridled joy to our residents at Warwick Aged Care Service.

Warwick is a town well-known for its many horse shows and competitions, including the annual Warwick Rodeo, ‘Australia’s Most Famous’ rodeo. Many Warwick Aged Care residents have past experiences with horses, which inspired Seniors Chaplain Donna Craig to look for an equine activity they could participate in and enjoy.

Donna always keeps the affirmation ‘I choose joy’, front of mind in both her work and personal life, so it seemed like fate when she found the Warwick-based horsemanship program Mane Matters, which operates with the purpose of ‘spreading the joy’.

Mane Matters was founded by local school chaplain Erin Wilson, with the mission to restore, renew and reconnect lives through human and horse connection. Erin has donated her time to bring Dreamy in to visit the service each fortnight. The residents spend their time giving Dreamy lots of pats and cuddles and helping with his grooming.

Studies have shown that interactions with horses can offer therapeutic benefits for seniors, including improved wellbeing, quality of life, trust, and a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Donna said that the team at Warwick have seen firsthand the benefits of the equine activity program.

“The program has become very popular, we usually have about 40 residents taking part each time and it’s something that everyone looks forward too. We have seen the interactions with Dreamy impact our residents in many ways – from fostering meaningful connections, to relighting the spark of communication, and providing a sense of purpose,” Donna said.

Isabelle is one of the many residents who looks forward to seeing Dreamy. She doesn’t get many visitors so their interaction has become very special to her and makes her feel happy. The two have formed a close bond and Isabelle regularly talks about how much she loves Dreamy.

Daryl found his voice again through his interactions with Dreamy. Usually non-verbal, he doesn’t communicate with many people, but talks to Dreamy when they spend time together.

Kevin is one of Warwick’s most energetic residents and often tries to venture off into town on his own. On one occasion, he was becoming frustrated that he couldn’t leave campus when one of the carers asked for his help to groom Dreamy.  He became completely absorbed in the task, and when he was finished he said ‘I just did a good day’s work’! Kevin was proud of his accomplishment and stayed relaxed and happy for the rest of that day.

Ashok Sharma, Churches of Christ Clinical Support and Governance Manager, is an advocate for animal interactions in aged care services.

“When it is done correctly, with the proper risk assessments, infection control strategies and logistical policies in place, I am completely supportive of aged care residents having the opportunity to spend time with animals,” he said.

“In my previous experiences, I have seen some wonderful outcomes for residents, with positive impacts on people’s loneliness and their emotional wellbeing.

“I once helped make an aged care service I was working at pet-friendly, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. We were able to take in residents that other services had turned away because they didn’t want to leave their pets behind – but we said yes.

“There was one resident that I remember who had a pug dog named Bruce, who was 14 years old and blind. The resident thought she would have to get him put down if she made the move into residential care, so she stayed away at the detriment of her own health and safety. She was so concerned for Bruce and the situation was causing her lots of stress, but she wouldn’t accept any help. Once the service became pet-friendly, we were able to let both her and Bruce move in. Bruce became quite the celebrity at the service, with other residents loving having him around and always gave him lots of pats and cuddles. It was fantastic to see Bruce lift everyone’s spirits, and served as an important reminder of the benefits that animal interactions have on humans.

“Julie was another resident who came into our pet-friendly service as a respite patient. She did not have any family or friends, and had a public trustee looking after her finances. After her four weeks of respite care, the public trustee contacted our service and asked for her to receive permeant care as she couldn’t stay in her home safely.

“The first time I met Julie was with the Public Trustee – we went to her room and talked with her and she said she was feeling happy and pleased with the services we were providing. We asked her if she’d like to live permanently at the service and she said that was okay. But, I knew something wasn’t right. Julie had been to hospital four times in the previous month as she wasn’t eating or drinking. When I asked her about this, she said it was because she was missing her two cats and that she was very sad not to have them with her as she didn’t have anyone else. She said that she knew she was depressed but she had been prescribed antidepressants so thought she would improve soon.

“When I learned about this, we tracked down Julie’s cats and they were able to come and live with her. Within two weeks of her cats returning, Julie no longer required her antidepressants. She immediately resumed eating and drinking and there were no more weekly hospital visits. She happily lived at the service with her cats until she passed away two years later, showcasing the huge impact the cats had on her emotional wellbeing and quality of life.”

Whether it’s a Shetland pony, a pug, or two cats, it’s clear that the power of animals are of great benefit to aged care residents.

“We look forward to continuing our equine activity program at Warwick Aged Care Service, and exploring more opportunities for future animal interactions at our services,” Donna said.

  Posted December 7, 2021 in News