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September is Therapy Dog Awareness Month

As it is Therapy Dog Awareness Month for the whole of September, it is the perfect time to share some great stories of how therapy dogs can really make a difference in people’s lives.

"My 19-year old son Seb is on the autism spectrum, with a mild intellectual disability, and bringing a dog into our family has made a profound difference to the quality of his life." explains Christine Trumble.

Finishing up at dancing school after 15 years, there was a big gap to fill. Dancing was something we shared together and had a great passion for, enjoying months of classes and rehearsals culminating in a big show at the end of every year.

Eddie, our rescued Greyhound from Gumtree Greys has filled that gap! We both fuss over him endlessly, delight in his antics and of course there’s the responsibility of daily walks.

Seb and Eddie have formed a beautiful bond and Seb refers to Eddie as his best friend.

Sadly, not all Greyhounds will have a happy ending like Eddie...

Many Greyhounds are killed each year – 202 alone were killed on racing tracks last year across Australia and there were 9,861 injured. Then, there is what the racing industry calls ‘wastage’ because it overbreeds in search of that elusive winner.

In fact, around 25 percent of the 11,000 Greyhounds bred in Australia each year are ‘surplus to requirements’, meaning they will never make it to the racing track.

The Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (CPG), a digital volunteer group, wants to raise awareness in the community about this unacceptable situation.

CPG president Dennis Anderson says thousands of unwanted Greyhounds are put to death despite being healthy, rehomeable and possibly suitable as therapy dogs.

“We’re calling on the racing industry and state governments to fund the many community-run rescue organisations which are ‘no kill’, as well as fund privately operated sanctuaries for these dogs by using betting tax,” he said.

Mr Anderson said another vital solution which state governments must put in place is ‘whole of life tracking’. This is needed because state government and industry regulators cease tracking greyhounds when they’re no longer wanted for racing, yet this is when these dogs are most at risk of 'disappearing'.[1]

Meanwhile, community-run rescues like Gumtree Greys are always helping out when ex-racers are no longer wanted. This charity has some terrific stories to tell about how their ‘hounds make a difference in the lives of some special people with very different needs.

Story Dogs is a not for profit based on the coast of northern NSW which operates in schools nationwide. Their mission statement is helping reluctant readers.

A Story Dog team is made up of one carefully screened dog and volunteer handler. Both spend a few hours each week at a school with nominated students for approximately 20 minutes. The kids read one-on-one to the dog (with the handler close-by).

“Children who might be struggling with reading may feel very self-conscious and anxious when reading in front of others in class, so this eliminates their fear of being judged, laughed at, or criticised,” said volunteer Julie.

For three years, Greyhound Cindy and Julie - her adoptive mum - visited Emmanuel College on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Greyhound Cindy at Emmuel College
“Cindy always knew when it was ‘story day’ and looked forward to the visits as much as the children enjoyed seeing her,” said Julie.

“Never mind that Cindy might be asleep for the two to three hour duration! The children believed she was listening intently – with her eyes closed.”

As we all know, all dogs love routine and Cindy was no exception. After three years of weekly visits on a Wednesday, she always headed to the car on that day, even when the visit was not going to happen due to a COVID lock down.

Sadly, Cindy recently ‘crossed over the rainbow bridge’. What a contribution she made to those children, and how her own life was enhanced not to mention saved, thanks to Gumtree Greys and Julie.

Arrival at Lorocco with Greyhounds Missy, Tutti Frutti, Ghandi, Lenny and Charm

Greyhounds and their volunteer adopters also help people at the other end of life. Gumtree Greys pays visits to aged care residential homes and in doing so, puts a smile on every face.

Volunteers with Gumtree Greys in Queensland make regular visits to Lorocco, a nursing home for the aged and disabled in Carindale. Residents love having visitors and you can see the joy in their faces as they pat the friendly hounds and chat to the volunteers.

Greyhound therapy dogs Tarquin, Missy and Bingo bring a smile to Lorocco residents

I know from personal experience when visiting my mother’s nursing home with my beloved Greyhound Eddie, that this is a treat all the residents enjoy.

As well as helping the elderly and kids, Greyhound therapy dogs have even proven to be a hit with teenagers experiencing the stress of exams during their last year of school.

Libraries, as well as schools, have taken the same approach with great results because it helps students cope during what can be a very challenging time.

Delta Therapy Dog Chance and volunteer Cathie
In addition to the informal therapy that pets offer, there are many organisations that train dogs to help people in all sorts of situations.

The Delta Society is one of many such groups and they say over 20,000 Australians enjoy a visit from a therapy dog each week, from kids in hospital to residents in nursing homes, plus anxious university students and stressed office workers.

There are other groups - such as mindDog Australia, Assistance Dogs Australia as well as Therapy Dogs Australia, which train dogs to help people.

Since 2011, the charity mindDog has trained more than 600 canines to provide psychiatric assistance to their handlers.

Unlike many service dog organisations, mindDog trains existing pets so a strong owner-dog bond is already in place. In fact, the owner does most of the training, with plenty of guidance from expert trainers.

Emily Smith, a Canberra local, is assisted by Greyhound Avery to manage her severe anxiety. He is a psychiatric assistance dog, trained by mindDog Australia, and four-year old Avery can go everywhere Emily must go.

“Avery can position himself in front of me to stop people from getting too close and triggering a panic attack. He can also protect my back while I get cash from the ATM. 

His favourite job is leaning into my leg to 'ground' me. This provides pressure to help reduce symptoms of both panic and the effects of dissociation," she said.

Emily said Avery’s training will be ongoing: "Even an experienced assistance dog will always be learning new skills and refining the ones he knows. Meanwhile, Greyhounds are also great pets!"

Meanwhile, Assistance Dogs Australia trains dogs that specialise in support for people with a physical disability, autism or PTSD

ADA says its “free-to-client assistance dogs provide independence, self-esteem, improved health and relationships to individuals and families – resulting in stronger and more successful communities.”

Therapy Dogs Australia defines a therapy dog as "a dog which has been trained with their handler to provide therapeutic intervention to another person in the community”, such as school students, nursing home residents and so on. TDA doesn't train assistance dogs or companion dogs.

In fact, there are many groups involved with therapy and dogs, so this September, let's take the time to remember and treasure all these wonderful dogs and the people who work with them.

written by Christine Trumble and Fiona Chisholm (CPG) for Australian Dog Lover, August 2021 (all rights reserved).

[1] The only exception is NSW where the government regulator tracks greyhounds retired to industry participants, however dogs retired to third parties by participants are sadly not tracked.
[2] Find the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds on FacebookInstagramwebsite and in the media.


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