Pet Life Magazine, New Zealand Pet Life Magazine Issue 4 Spring 2017 - Page 6

Sophie, oakie & Thumpa - great therapy Forget about dogs performing tricks, Sophie, Oakie and Thumpa can do magic! The three Golden Retrievers owned by Ann Evans are Canine Friends Pet Therapy dogs, and make regular visits to hospital patients and residents of hospices and rest homes. Ann, who is the president of Canine Friends Pet Therapy, lives south of Taihape and travels as far as Whanganui and Feilding in order for her dogs to weave their spell on those in care, including the elderly and people with dementia or mental health problems. The dogs even charm hundreds and hundreds of stressed-out Massey University students during study break, twice a year. “As soon as they start patting the dog and talking to you their faces light up and it’s magic, really,” says Ann, who’s been involved with the Pet Therapy group for nearly 10 years with Sophie, her oldest Golden Retriever. The trio puts smiles on faces of everyone they visit, making them feel alive and happy. Even the dementia patients remember them – but never her, Ann laughs. And how do they perform their magic? Simply by laying a big furry head in the lap of someone in need, gazing up into their eyes with big brown eyes and allowing them to stroke their silky ears and coat. Canine Friends Pet Therapy started 27 years ago and now has 486 human members who collectively have about 600 dogs nationwide that they share with people in care. Ann says dogs give people a reason to communicate, which helps ease feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially for rest home residents confined to bed or wheelchairs. With the dementia patients that Ann sees with her dogs, she can ask them if they had pets, what pets did they have, and then with every visit take the conversation a little further. Sophie, Oakie and Thumpa help stimulate their minds and memories. Ann says rest homes have told her that the dogs’ visits are like giving residents “happiness pills”. And it’s a win-win situation – Sophie, Oakie and Thumpa love being patted and scratched and talked to with affection and interest. All Canine Friends are matched with those they visit. “Not every dog can deal with mental health or dementia patients,” says Ann. But nobody fazes her lot. “My dogs are bomb proof, they love cuddles and pats and just lie there.” The visits by Canine Friends are one-on-one – one dog per patient. It’s more beneficial to focus on one situation and what is happening, says Ann, then have to worry about what is going on with a pack of dogs and people. She takes Sophie, aged 11, the most, but Oakie, 9, “is very good, very cuddly, very gentle”. Thumpa, 6, who has recently started on visits, charmed his very first patient by walking straight into her room and putting his head on her knee. They all want to go, laughs Ann, and it can take some time around New Zealand to get the right dog in the car on visit day, which is every fortnight. They al