Brenda Kittelty is the coordinator of The Royal Children’s Hospital Visiting Volunteer Program.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of my role at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) is my involvement with the Lort Smith Pet Therapy program at the RCH. This program aims to improve the well-being of our patients through positive contact with assessed and approved dogs. It’s wonderful to see the benefits the company of a dog provides to our patients. They bring normality to children in an abnormal, difficult and sometimes stressful situation.
The Lort Smith Animal Hospital in North Melbourne administers the Pet Therapy program. Due to a range of factors, including strict infection control requirements, the only pets who are able to visit the hospital in this capacity are dogs, which are recruited, assessed and trained by the staff at Lort Smith.
The dogs bring a smile to the face of everyone who sees them – patients, families and staff alike. Apart from the cuteness factor, the Lort Smith volunteers often report back with inspiring stories of post-operative children reluctant to get out of bed, but who will happily take the leash and walk the dog up and down the ward. Physiotherapists sometimes involve the dogs to help encourage movement when working with some children, and many distressed children have been calmed off to sleep while patting one of the dogs.
Time spent with a Pet Therapy dog can also be especially meaningful to a child who is missing their own pet back at home. Earlier today we had a beautiful dog Alfred who came to visit patients with his owner Sue. As soon as he turned up two year old RCH patient Jack run over for a cuddle. His mum Jayne said he was missing his many pets at home. “He just had surgery yesterday and it’s the first time I’ve seen him smile since. It’s the brightest I have seen him all week,” she said.
Currently there are seven wards in the hospital which welcome visits from the Pet Therapy dogs, and visits can take place seven days a week. There are areas within the hospital that aren’t suitable for the dogs and their handlers to visit, but special visits to individual children on other wards can be arranged if they, their family and the clinical staff caring for them feel it would be beneficial.
There are currently 37 Lort Smith volunteers who bring 42 dogs to the hospital. Yes really, 42 dogs! Some of the volunteers have two or even three dogs and alternate their visits. The dogs come in all shapes, sizes, colours and furriness. There is Maggie the three legged Spoodle and Sami the blind Labrador; tiny little Poppy the Chihuahua right up to Ralf the Giant Schnauzer. There is also a veritable Ark of various “oodles” – Spoodles, Labradoodles, a Schnoodle, a Groodle and even a Westipoo! All are a wonderful addition to the wards at the RCH.