What motivates a therapy dog to volunteer in palliative care?


Bailey and his ‘buddy’, Dr Rohan McLachlan (a surgical registrar at St George’s hospital, are volunteers with the Pet Therapy Programme at Calvary Health Care Sydney (a public hospital in New South Wales, Australia, that provides specialist palliative care and rehabilitation services). Like countless volunteers in Australia and across the world, volunteers in palliative care make a difference to patients and families near the end of life.

Volunteer Bailey gives us a ‘dog’s eye view’ of why he does the job.

Therapy dog Bailey. Photograph with kind permission of Calvary Health Care Sydney.

Hi there,my name is Bailey.

I acquired a buddy when I was about six months old. He calls himself Rohan but I call him ‘Groof’. He’s ok – he feeds me and picks up my poop like a good provider does.

Life has been pretty good so far. I go to the park most days and hang out with my friends Rocky and Alfie. But l was looking for something more in life…

Then I started working at Calvary Hospital in Kogarah. I drag my buddy Rohan with me too. We go around and visit patients in the palliative care wards and say hi to the staff along the way. I really enjoy it, mostly because I can see how happy I make the patients and their families.

Some patients are really interactive. Their faces light up when they see me coming. I trot up to them and ask for a pat. I can usually tell if they are not feeling like themselves and I seem to distract them from that, which works great for me because I love being petted. I make them feel like they are back home because a lot of them have animals too. Rohan told me that a lot of them have been in hospital for a while, so it’s nice to help them forget that for a short moment.

Often, I’ll walk into a patient’s room that is filled with family members. Usually, they are quiet and solemn. But when I walk in everyone brightens up. I get plenty of smiles and pats. The families always tell me how nice it is to see me. Then they will share provider stories with Rohan and show him photos of the animals they provide for. I wish Rohan would stop trying to steal their attention from me.

Bailey on duty visiting a patient. Photograph with kind permission of Calvary Health Care Sydney.

Some of the patients are really sick. I can always tell. If that’s the case, I will quietly sit next to them and keep them company – just being there makes them at ease. The sickest patients can’t get out of bed and so I’ll stand up with my paws on the bed next to them so they can see me and pat me. Despite them being very unwell, they always smile at me, even if it’s just with their eyes.

It’s not easy being a dog. It’s not easy being a human either and the humans I visit at Calvary are doing it tough, or struggling. I’m grateful that something as simple as just being with them and their families can make such a significant difference to their stay at Calvary. The smiles and stories they share make that obvious to me, and unlimited pats for a few hours’ work make it all worthwhile!


Read more posts on the EAPC blog about Volunteering and Palliative Care and Animals.

Join us in Berlin at the 16TH EAPC World Congress…
In addition to many sessions and posters on volunteering at the congress, there is an International Symposium on Saturday 25 May 2019, 10:00 to 17:00, Volunteers at the Heart of Hospice and Palliative Care – Opportunities and Challenges 2030. View the programme here. Register for the International Symposium here.

View the full EAPC scientific programme here.  Register for the EAPC World Congress here.

This entry was posted in Palliative Care & Animals, VOLUNTEERING IN PALLIATIVE CARE and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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