Oncologist Dr. Belinda Yeoh and a patient

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The pooches helping patients at Austin Health

2 May 2019

Many hospital patients can find themselves missing home but trained volunteers at Austin Health are part of a program that lets patients get their pet 'fix' even when they're away from their pooch.

Tracey O'Neill, Austin Health's Manager of Volunteer Services, said volunteers and their dogs visit the Austin once of fortnight as part of Austin Health's Pet Visiting program.

"We know people develop really strong bonds with animals, and patients staying in hospital are no different," Ms O'Neill said.

"Our patients love seeing the dogs come in and the visits give them a sense of companionship, especially for those patients who are missing their own pets at home.

"Just having a dog around can have a calming influence on patients and provide a distraction from what can sometimes be an unpleasant time in someone's life.

"It's amazing to see how a visit from one of the pets can spark a conversation between a patient and one of our volunteers, and bring them a sense of comfort even if they have never met the person or the pet before.

"The joy on people's faces when they see the dogs come around is something quite special," she said.

Ms O'Neill said the Pet Visiting program is facilitated in partnership with Lort Smith Animal Hospital.

"Lort Smith assess the dogs who are part of the program to make sure they're suitable to visit the hospital," she said.

"They also train our volunteers to prepare them for the hospital setting.

"The pets visit a number of different parts of Austin Health from our palliative care patients, through to paediatrics, oncology and psychiatric units.

"We are currently looking at how we might be able to expand the Pet Visiting program so that more patients can benefit in the future," Ms O'Neill said

Anyone wanting more information about volunteering to be part Austin Health's Pet Therapy program can contact the Lort Smith Animal Hospital on 9328 3021.